Jury duty: a dreaded yet eye-opening experience
By Allyson Meyer
Jury duty. It was an experience I dreaded. For other people it may be paying taxes or voting, but for me it was being called to sit on a jury. Why? I’m not entirely sure.
Maybe it was because it signaled a start to my adult life, or maybe it was just because I dreaded the long day of sitting at a courthouse.
Recently I had the pleasure of receiving a jury summons. It comes in the mail as an official looking document, with a big red box with type reading, “JURY SUMMONS.”
After failed attempts to explain my status as a full time student, which therefore makes me unable to go to the courthouse or sit on a trial, all I succeeded in doing was postponing it until the summer.
Apparently being a student is not a valid excuse.
When I arrived at the courthouse, I was nervous. Being 19, this was my first jury summons and I didn’t want to mess it up.
From metal detectors to guards, I realized this is serious, adding to my fear that messing up would lead to some form of criminal or civil prosecution.
Upon entering the jury lounge promptly at 7:45 a.m., I was greeted by a lot of sleepy people who had taken their seats in one of the numerous plastic chairs.
Once seated, I began to take in my surroundings. There was the diligent courthouse employee giving directions while the lady in front of me filled out a crossword.
The coughing and sneezing of fellow would-be jurors made a germ-a-phobe like me cringe and the guy behind me was relaying his story to a fellow juror about leaving his headphones at home when he had planned on watching episodes of “Dexter.”
I settled in for the long run, unsure of how to keep myself occupied. I scanned a magazine, read a book and decided to write, all while being ready to hear my name over the PA.
Each time the loudspeaker came on my heart beat faster as I strained to hear the muffled voice. Each time I felt myself thinking, “please, not me.”
As the day dragged on I began to get really tired, partially because I had forgone my morning coffee so I wouldn’t be late.
The people around me became restless. By 2 p.m. the only update was, “just a little longer.”
At 3 p.m., more people were called up. The remaining potential jurors, including me, looked on with mixed emotions.
There was envy, at least these people had something to do instead of just sit around. Then there were feelings of relief having not been called so close to the end of the day.
By 4 p.m. we were dismissed, having maxed out the courthouse workday. Walking outside felt incredible.
So that was my experience. Frustrated about what had transpired, or really what hadn’t.
This made me wonder why, according to the 2004 Associated Press article by Ben Margot, “Three-quarters of the people surveyed for the American Bar Association disagreed with the notion that jury service is a hardship to be dodged.”
The Harris Poll on Jury Duty found that only about 44 percent of Americans have attended jury duty and only 24 percent have sat on a jury.
Even with this, most people believe that a trial and verdict by a jury is more impartial than one by a judge.
So why is there a surprising willingness to participate in jury duty? Maybe it’s the pride in taking part in civil service and fulfilling one’s duty as a citizen of a democratic society.
Maybe it’s because you are called up and have to serve. Or maybe it’s because juries have not always been inclusive to everyone, such as women and racial minorities.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, women were excluded on the basis of a “defect of sex.” Juries were also determined by race, with laws describing juries as white males, which was questioned in the 1879 Supreme Court Case Strauder v. West Virginia.
The court opinion on the Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute website from the case stated that, “the statute of West Virginia . . . singles out and denies to colored citizens the right and privilege of participating in the administration of the law as jurors because of their color.”
There was a time when we weren’t tried by our peers, maybe because of our sex, color, or financial status. Even today, some believe that there is room for improvement in the selection of jurors.
Given this, maybe we should feel privileged when we receive the summons in the mail.
Maybe instead of grumbling about it, I should recognize that I’m lucky to participate in a system that has in past decades excluded women and minorities.
Even though it took up a good portion of my day, in the words of Susan B. Anthony “It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union,” shouldn’t we then take pride in being a part of it?
If nothing else, it was a thought provoking experience. It made me realize the meaning behind the words of the Seventh Amendment, “the right of trial by jury,” and the importance of allowing everyone, no matter who they are, to take part in our democratic system.
Even with all this, I still open the mailbox with a fair amount of hesitation, hoping not to see that big red box with black letters for at least a few more years.