It’s the moment that every parent waits for. From the instant their little ball of joy is placed in the crib, it’s all that new mothers and fathers dream about. It’s the first time a parent can honestly say to their offspring, “You are a contributing member of the United States. Now go down to that courthouse and sit quietly on a wooden bench with strangers until 5pm, and, by the way, this may go on all week.”
Of course, I am speaking about jury duty.
And, as it so happens, yesterday was the fateful day I finally entered the judge’s domain. What follows is half advice column, half anecdotal study in human behavior, and entirely true.
It all started one afternoon as I received a pastel blue envelope with perforated seals reminiscent of a high school report card in both color and smell. Upon closer inspection of the typewriter-esque font (think courier new with the noise of a dirty print head), I came to the horrible realization: I’d been summoned. Jury duty is like the stuff of legend, something an aunt you see only at birthdays had two weeks ago or that story you hear from your grandfather after he finishes Judge Judy. I don’t think I’ve even been in a courtroom before yesterday. But to be honest, I found myself excited to take on this entirely new challenge and put my honesty and fairness to the ultimate test.
The first piece of advice I offer is for that most special of nights, Jury Duty’s Eve. Not everyone makes the cut, so you’ll need to call the juror commissioner’s office the night before to see if your number has been chosen by Lady Justice. To my delight, I was drafted in the first round and would need to report for duty at 9am sharp the following morning. I could barely sleep, as I hungered to play judge to the fate of another human (in an unbiased and fair manner of course).
I arrived at the courthouse triumphantly, summons in hand. After waiting in line behind several of my newest rivals, I handed the clerk my forms and asked “Any advice for a jury duty virgin?”
“Just the same advice I’d give to a regular virgin. Don’t try anything too crazy.”
I entered the courtroom and sat front and center, ready for the sacrament of impartiality to descend upon me like the holy spirit. Around me sat nearly 200 other people, though not all of them as clearly excited as I was. My mind raced in anticipation of the miracle of law that was to be beset upon me; there was considerable downtime before the fun starts. Herein lies my second piece of advice for jury duty first-timers. Bring a book and some snacks, because you ain’t going anywhere for a while. I of course, had in tow Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, an impressive compendium of classic science fiction, and the perfect tool to begin the philosophical and ethical debates I was sure to have with other jurors before the selection began.
To my complete surprise, the other jurors were seemingly uninterested in deliberating on the future of humanity and appeared to be focused solely on their cell phones, using them to post uncouth complaints about the justice system across their social networks. Items to the effect of “I’d rather be in the hospital than in jury duty, thanks Obama” and “Thank goodness I took an extra oxycodone this morning, I’m gonna need it.”
After firing off a few Tweets myself and promising my 202 followers a live-tweeted session of my soon to be courtroom drama, I set upon my book while waiting for further instruction. These instructions soon came in the form of a bailiff addressing all of us to shut off our phones because “This shit is about to get real.”
My attempts to Tweet the event thwarted, I resorted to taking a closer look at my fellow citizens, all of whom I now considered my opponents. To me this was a competition, one I would not lose. I would be picked or die trying.
The milieu of faces included “Alaska Jack” a man sporting a bearskin cloak and “Linda Licorice” an obvious spinster dressed all in black and with a smell that more than did justice to her name. Also among my fellow jurors were a delicious sampler platter of local senior citizens as well as young faces much like mine own, their eyes a combination of a lust for power and poorly hidden boredom.
Before the judge came in, the town was nice enough to send in a comedian who warmed up the crowd. I thought it odd for a comedian to be dressed in a full suit and to be talking mostly about civic duty, the history of the court and famous judges, but he was young and handsome so no one seemed to mind.
Edit: Just found out this man was not a comedian, but rather commissioner of jurors. He did well either way so whatever.
A large silver microphone suddenly began to drop from the ceiling and he [the comedian] grabbed it emphatically shouting, “LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!!!!!” The crowd was instantly whipped into a frenzy, chanting “JUDGE! JUDGE! JUDGE! JUDGE!” as the lights began to dim and a bell as if from a boxing match began to peal.
A spotlight flicked open, bathing a curtain to the left of the judge’s stand in crisp white light. With a victorious fanfare, the curtains were swept aside and the judge stepped forth in all his glory. Arms upraised, black silk robes hanging below – still swaying from his dramatic entrance, he let out a banshee yell. “AIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!” In a flash he was airborne, looking all the more like a vampire on the verge of transformation and escape. He landed atop his stand, gavel swinging wildly. “BE SEATED” he commanded sonorously, stepping down from his perch.
The clerk then approached the bench, unclipping the fly wires from the judge’s safety harness, letting him sit comfortable in his throne.
“I was wondering how he did that, the theatrics are simply incredible!” I said to the woman next to me.
“You should have been here last summer” she said, “They had mimes doing slam poetry.”
I nodded thoughtfully.
“Let the games begin!” the judge thundered.
The clerk, hunchbacked and balding, began to wildly spin a rusty metal container which contained the names of the jurors to be selected at random. I was hypnotized by the process. It was like watching the bingo caller from hell. Veined flesh taut with strain as he spun the box faster and faster. “Gotta make sure they’re mixed evenly” he said spittle dribbling over the red rust.
Eyes glinting, his hand flashed round and round before stopping in an instant and then darting into the octagonal box to retrieve a name. One, two, three names….and then, mine own!!! I joined the other few selected for the offering in the juror’s box and waited as they called 17 other names for a total of 21, a number well liked by the demon Kabal, who is known to aid lawyers in their most dire times.
After we were all selected, we were sworn to secrecy, and each deposited the personal item we were instructed to bring into the silver reclaiming bowl.
“Each item will be returned in time, so long as only the truth is spoken” the bailiff informed us. “Otherwise they will be offered as a tributary to the blind fates who maintain order in this our holy court.”
The judge then asked us if we had any questions or comments before we began. I, wanting to lighten to mood (along with the showman inside me craving to be a part of this most human of rituals) asked loudly,
“Your honor if I may, I’d like to tell the court a joke-”
“No.” he said without looking in my direction.
I sat down abashed and resigned myself to anonymity among the other jurors.
It was then that the questioning began.
“Do you recognize any of the attorneys, defendants, or plaintiffs in the room?”
“How often would you say you offer sacrifice as instructed in the De Vermis Mysteriis?”
“Will any specific knowledge affect your ability to accurately evaluate their testimonies?”
“What is your favorite non comedic television show?”
“Have you or anyone you know ever been convicted of a crime related to xxxxx xxxxxx [redacted due to sworn oaths]?
“What is the proper method for evaluating a tuna casserole?”
On and on the questions went….”
Jurors answered and fell from grace, being forced to leave the stand, never to be seen again. Others were sent to fill their places, beginning again the vile series of questions. Through it all I remained, unwavering, answering each question without hesitation.
“Twice weekly, with an extended ritual on every 3rd Sunday and full moon”
“The West Wing”
“My cousin once was arrested for xxxx xxxx, but we’re not really close so it’s, like, not really a big deal. I mean he wishes me a happy birthday on Facebook but that’s all”
“Look for a crisp brown top, and put a toothpick in the center to see if it comes out clean.”
The questioning now complete, we were given our first recess. No one left the room. If I had to offer any advice for answering the questions it is to simply empty your mind and speak from the heart. Be true to yourself and the deities of the court will be true to you as well.
“Welcome back” the judge said. “Now comes the most difficult portion of the selection process, the attorney’s inspection.” He clarified, “Both the district attorney and the defendant’s attorney will inspect each juror in person. You need not say anything, only stand when I call your name.”
When it came to my turn, I stood as instructed and faced the lawyers. Immediately, I felt a sharp pain in my head and was possessed by the notion that two entities were battling for a foothold in my brain. In 2 minutes it was over, though I felt as if I had been standing for 2 hours. I was exhausted both mentally and physically, and slumped down into my chair gratefully. The rest of the jurors were examined in the same way yet did not seem nearly as fatigued as I did. Perhaps this is what happens to all people during their first instance of jury duty.
I closed my eyes to rest momentarily and upon opening them found myself outside the court room. The judge’s voice echoed mockingly in my head, though he was nowhere to be found. “You have been excused from trial selection. This is not a reflection on you or your personality, simply a choice made by the attorneys. Thank you.” His dropped to a whisper and faded.
I walked out into the sunlight blinking wondering what exactly had just happened. I’m not sure I’ll ever know why I was rejected this time around, and I am disappointed by the fact. I was looking forward to seeing a trial first hand, yet it seems I must wait until next time.
I do know, however, that next time I will not succumb to the mind tricks of the cunning attorneys. I will be chosen. I will do our country justice.
One thing still bothers me though, I’ve never lived of day of my life in the town called Reficul, yet that is where I was called to serve.
That about wraps it up! I hope this blog post was an nice introduction to jury duty and helps prepare young people with what they can expect in a typical juror selection process. If you have any other tips for new jurors, leave them in the comments!