Your Honor, Can We Make Jury Duty Easier? Please?

Why is it that these never get “lost in the mail”?

Tell anyone that you got summoned for jury duty, and the reaction you’re met with is sympathy. It’s the rare person that finds usefulness, fulfillment, or joy in the process.

I was one of those rare people.

I had never served on a jury before, and when I was selected, I looked at it not only as “fulfilling my civic duty” (which, as a side note, I think is ridiculous considering we don’t mandate any other civic duties — like voting!), but also as an opportunity to leave an impact on a less-than-ideal system. I knew I’d approach it with empathy, thoughtfulness, and a desire to do what’s right rather than what’s easy.

Then I experienced the process of jury duty.

First, I had to check the status of my summons every day for four business days before I had any information. This was nearly a week of waiting in limbo and needing to be prepared to appear in court at 16-hours notice.

Then, I was called to report. I waited in a room, filled out a questionnaire and was the first group selected — only to be told to come back the next day. Just like that, a day of work, moved appointments and stress about the uncertainty of jury duty was wasted.

I came back the next day to discover that the case I would potentially be a part of was going to go four days into the following week (meaning almost two weeks from the day I started checking my summons status). I had a family trip already planned and would need to miss one day of jury duty, which according to the judge was not only an invalid reason, but also earned me a scolding for not postponing my summons in the first place. I didn’t get credit for serving — despite two days lost — and was told I may be called again any time.

I left feeling like I just got cheated. I felt bad not only about myself, but also about the whole system. I was being punished despite being willing to put my entire life on hold for an indeterminate period to maybe get selected to be on a jury and have the weighty task of deciding someone’s fate?

Our system could use an update. With technology today, this should be so much easier. What if instead of a summons, you got a letter to inform you that within the next six months, you need to choose a date to appear for jury duty? You’d log into a calendar system that shows available “slots” for jurors (so that not everyone shows up on the same day), and select 3 days that would work within your schedule. You’d be guaranteed that you would either be dismissed after the first day or begin trial the very next day. You’d be guaranteed a response within 48 hours of which of your 3 selected days you’ve been chosen for. You’d be able to block off time in your calendar in advance: you’d avoid planning trips, make arrangements for childcare, build your work schedule around serving.

This system would put the power of choice back in the hands of individuals. And we’re way more likely to do something when we choose our own circumstances. It would also lift the negativity surrounding jury duty, since you’d be going of your own volition rather than being voluntold.

I’m no expert in the legal system, and would love to hear feedback, challenges, and thoughts. How can we make jury duty suck less? Why is the system the way it is? Can I get a witness?