Thursday, April 21, 2016
R is for Recap: Jury Duty
If you've never had the opportunity, it's an experience unlike anything else. Well, okay, maybe not 100% unlike. It's kinda like a job interview for a very temporary position. In North Carolina, we are what is known as a "One Day/One Trial" state. You're called for a certain day, you show up, and whatever happens that day, that's what you get. If you end up on a trial, that will be the only trial you're on, and if you're not on a trial or sitting for trial selection by 5PM, you're free for the next two years.
I was outside the waiting room at 8:30 on Monday morning with around 70-80 other people. A few minutes later, the clerk opened the door to start taking our names and checking us in. I managed to scoot in near the front of the line. Before the clerk had managed to check in two people, I noticed a fuss around an old man standing by the door, wedged into a corner. Two women wanted to get him to the front of the line so he could sit down. The moment he took a shuffle forward, he crumpled, collapsing to the ground, and I thought, "Oh my god, am I watching someone die?"
Thank goodness, I was not. Within moments, two people were on him, one a retired EMT, and a third was on the phone with 911. The old man was roused within seconds, and a number of officers and security entered just as quickly. He had apparently had a stroke recently and thought himself well enough to come in. Evidently, he wasn't. He was, however, well enough to tell the 911 dispatcher he was okay just before a few officers wheeled him out in a wheelchair the clerk had produced from a back room. Apparently, our courthouse is well prepared for medical emergencies. As the man was wheeled out, one of the officers joked, "Well, that's one way to get out of jury duty."
Pretty hard to have a day much more eventful than that. The clerk recovered order quickly and got back to work checking us in. We made ourselves comfortable in the many seats around the room. I dug into Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children on my kindle (an excellent read). When everyone was finally checked in and settled, the clerk started into a long, detailed explanation of what we could expect for the day, how jury duty worked in the state, and the basics of what would be expected of us. After a Q&A session and a short video, we were ready to get started. We would still have some downtime before the first set of potential jurors was needed.
At around 11:30, she began the call for the first jury selection. I was the sixth person on her list. I and 24 others were directed up to our courtroom, where we were introduced to all the standard faces of a court: the judge, the bailiff, the court reporter, the prosecutor and defendant's lawyer... everyone except us. The case was a criminal one, armed robbery a few years past. Once the judge had explained the procedures, twelve of us were picked. I was not among them. For the next hour and a half, 22 of the 25 of us were interrogated on who we were, what we did, if we'd ever been the victim of or accused of a violent crime, our thoughts on guns, and more. The stories were fascinating. One man's daughter had been kidnapped in Iraq. An old man was getting married in a week. A young woman had participated in last year's state protests. So many people I wished I could have gotten to know more about.
Of the first twelve, four were dismissed after questioning by the defendant's lawyer, mostly for strong opinions on guns or previous violent events. Four replaced them. Two of them were dismissed by the defendant. Two filled their spots. They were both released by the prosecution. The next two satisfied everyone, and it came time to pick a backup juror. Just as the backup juror was confirmed by both sides, and the deputy clerk had sworn them in as jurors, one of the jurors confessed she didn't think she could be unbiased based on her work history. So the backup juror became a full juror, and one last person was confirmed. During the questioning, I saw the judge ask the deputy clerk a question, and she looked at us and held up three fingers.
They were actually worried they might have to call for more potential jurors.
Lucky for them, the new backup juror was acceptable, and they had their full jury. The three of us were dismissed back to the waiting room. At this point, it was 1PM and we were just in time to start our lunch break. I enjoyed a meal with the other woman not called. Her wife just had triplets in February, and she was almost grateful for the breath of fresh air jury duty gave her, though worried about how everyone was holding up without her both with her job and at home.
After lunch, we waited. And waited. I spoke with a woman in a hijab who had been sequestered on jury duty for two weeks in New York and a mother who had just gotten a full time promotion at work. And, of course, I read more. Finally, a little after 4PM, the clerk told us she was going to split us up based on if she called our names. Having been in one courtroom already, I quickly realized the names she was calling were the people who had been dismissed earlier. The three of us who hadn't been needed were not called. Then she asked, "Anyone who has been in a courtroom who I did not call, come here." The three of us and two others joined her. She confirmed our names and sent us over with the dismissed. Then she took the remaining 21 people, including the two women I had been talking to, and directed them to their courtroom. It was late, but they were finally being called. The rest of us? We were free to go once we checked out. We had done our duty and would not be called for the next two years. Our checks would be in the mail.
And that was it. By the luck of randomness, I had not been needed or dismissed. I will not have a story to put forth when someone tells me, "I got a summons to jury duty." At least, not for a few years at minimum. And I'm not upset by it. If I had been called and not dismissed, I would have done my service, but knowing the truth and someone's future was in my hands? Knowing some of the stories I have heard about people who discovered they'd made the wrong choice because the evidence that would have convicted them couldn't be included? I don't think I could have stomached it. All the same, though, it was an interesting experience you don't often see in shows like Law & Order, and I'm glad I was there to see.