It’s Your Duty

I was given an opportunity to perform my civic duty, but alas, it was not meant to be.

My all-time favorite TV show is Law & Order, the police-and-courtroom drama that delighted fans of mystery and legal-speak (like myself) for 20 years. These days, I watch the reruns so religiously, that my daughter hums along with the theme song as soon as the telltale “ba-bum” comes on. Clearly, I watch the show too much.

Over the years, other TV courtroom dramas have intrigued me: The Practice, Boston Legal, L.A. Law, and Ally McBeal. Two of my favorite movies are A Few Good Men and 12 Angry Men. The eloquence and passion of the attorneys, while they advocate for their clients, and how they cleverly get witnesses to say exactly what they want them to, is just so entertaining and interesting. (Yes, I know they are just actors and actresses, and it’s all highly glamorized and exaggerated, but it’s just so fun to watch.) You can imagine how ecstatic I was when I got called in to the courthouse to report to jury duty.

Yes, you read that correctly. I am perhaps one of the few people in the U.S. who actually enjoy being on a jury. I was on the jury for a civil trial some time ago. It was a meh experience for me since I didn’t think the case should have even gone to trial (the alleged crime was, IMO, not something worth taking up the time of two attorneys, the entire courtroom, and jury), and everything was settled in less than five days — including jury deliberations. It would be another 13 years before I would get a chance to be seated in the jury box again.

There I was, having won the lottery to be called in to the courthouse, and then having won the lottery to be called into the box (one of 18 of us) for potential jury selection. When the judge mentioned that this was going to be a criminal case that would take about a month to complete, admittedly, I had some cause for concern. I was in the middle of a huge deadline at work that was aiming to keep me busy for the next few weeks, so being out of office during all that time was going to be challenging. But, but — it was a criminal case, which was undoubtedly going to be interesting! Then the judge read the charges (a good three pages worth), and I was less elated. The charges were disturbing, and the alleged victim was not much older than my daughter. I knew I would be very uncomfortable in the courtroom day after day, listening to detailed and explicit testimony about crimes against a child. Watching all this happen as part of a fictional story on television wasn’t going to compare to real people — and affecting their, very real, lives. But, I was getting ahead of myself. This was just the very first day of jury selection, after all.

The jury selection process is pretty inefficient. Despite some newer efforts to try to speed things up (like letting potential jurors fill out a questionnaire first, to do the initial “weeding”) it all seemed to take so so so long. And the days were short! We started at 9:30 AM (late, by my standards) and ended at 4:30 PM. But in between, we had two 15–20 minute breaks and a 2-hour lunch. Hmmm…maybe this was another reason why the jury selection process drags on and on and on.

At the start, it was impossible to not be annoyed by the extended process and repetition. At least the judge cracked some jokes once in awhile to try to lighten the mood (though I don’t know if the defendant appreciated that as much). And the attorneys (unlike the ones usually on TV shows) were pleasant enough. As the hours passed, I started to psych myself up for my seemingly inevitable upcoming weeks of jury duty. I told myself that I could push aside my discomfort, separate the situation from my fears and concerns about my own daughter, and be an unbiased juror for this case. I prided myself on my fairness and virtue, and being able to apply logic and empathy to be able to determine which witness was telling the truth.

I made it past all the questioning from the judge and from both the prosecutor and defense attorney. Then the attorneys started using their “peremptory challenges”, where they get to excuse a potential juror without having to give any reason why. I was the third person excused by defense counsel. I can only imagine that he sensed that I was not likely to empathize with his client and didn’t want to take a chance that I wasn’t going to be as unbiased as I told myself I could be.

And so ended my next foray into jury duty. With a mix of disappointment and relief, I went about the rest of my week and told my coworkers the good news that I would be back in the office right away, after all.

The trial should be about halfway through by now, and I wonder which one of my potential juror colleagues ended up making it on the jury. I wonder if I’ll be able to find out the outcome eventually. I wonder…

Actually I probably should just stop wondering and get over it. I’m not supposed to think about the case anymore and am supposed to wipe out the names of the defendant and witnesses from my memory. There will hopefully be another chance for me to live out my Law & Order dream.

But, until then — “ba-bum”.

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