This past week I was called for jury duty.
I can understand why people find jury duty unbearable, but I was sort of excited. Most people never go to court, but jury duty is a pretty innocuous way to get to see America’s judicial system at work.
I got my letter when I came home from college, so I had T-minus no time to send in the questionnaire that they send with it. They don’t care if you don’t mail it in as long as you bring it. Google wouldn’t tell me that, so I’m saying it here. You do not have to mail in your jury duty questionnaire five days in advanced for county court. The fact is, the questionnaires are relatively new, as I learned from my co-jurors who had served in the past. There isn’t any good legislation about them, because they can’t ever prove you got it. You do, however, have to show up for jury duty.
So I arrived at the courthouse, which was beautiful, and I was instructed to sit and wait. And that’s what we did. We waited from 9:30 am until about 10:30 where we watched two videos about the jury duty system. They’re the kind of videos your teacher would make your substitute teacher play. It was awful, it was boring, and every time I started reading my book, I felt like a kid not paying attention in school.
The chairs you wait in are hard. At least in my courthouse, we waited on the hardest wooden benches known to man. The worst part is, I had some back issues, which you can read about in this post, less than a year ago. Sitting in that chair, leaning over and reading on my kindle, was awful. We never got as much as a lick of attention. We just sat and waited.
Finally, the jury duty commissioner dismissed us for lunch. At this point it was 11:15. They gave us a lunch break and asked us to be back by 1:15. I’m no mathematician, but a two-hour lunch break is gratuitous at best. I grabbed Chipotle (because it was close and everyone loves Chipotle). Guess what we did when we came back? Sat for even longer. At about 1:45 we were finally split in half and corralled into a courtroom. We sat and went through ceremony. We had to make perfunctory and performative oaths.
The judge asks a series of questions and if you answer yes to any of them you have to explain yourself. He asks if you know the defendant, the lawyers, the court staff, anyone else in the jury, etc. If you do, you have to say that it won’t bias your ability to be a juror. During this time I found out that if you’ve ever had a misdemeanor or a felony, you can’t participate on a jury.
After this the lawyers stare you down. They watch you, scribble notes, and then decide the six jurors and one alternate that each one of them wants (14 total). They don’t even ask you any questions. The entire time you are left with NOTHING to do. This is the common theme of jury duty. Doing nothing.
They chose me.
They don’t tell you who the alternates are, but once you’re chosen, they cram you in a tiny room and make you wait even more. We waited and waited, and then were brought out around 4:00. The prosecution made their opening statements.
My case (and I can say this because it’s over) was about a man, who in the middle of February, was naked, with only cowboy boots on. He was on the side of the highway acting erratically. The police came and arrested him and brought him to a medical facility (because he was naked in February). There he attacked a police officer. They restrained him, took him inside, and then he attacked a police officer again. Afterwards, they took him to jail, where he attacked a correctional officer.
In her opening statement, the prosecution lawyer even said that they had video of the attacks. Before we heard her statement, I was prepared to defend this man’s innocence. If they had pictures of wounds, there is no proof that he caused them, but a video? Why was this guy even fighting it (P.S. you aren’t supposed to treat the lawyer’s words as fact).
After the opening statement, we went home (and on the way home I picked up a bottle of wine because I got paid $9 for the day #bigmoney). The judge asked us, before we left, to arrive at 9:55AM the next morning.
And so we did. Lo and behold, the next time we were spoken to, the judge had arrived (at 11:30) to tell us that the defendant had pled guilty to simple assault (the charges were for aggravated assault, which is simple assault against someone in authority). He was guilty of aggravated assault, but the judge explained that the defendant was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. He hadn’t been taking his medication.
He had previously written the judge saying that the judge must drop the charges, because Satan, God and Jesus would cause the end of the world if he didn’t. Satan was working for God and Jesus. The defendant had written that if the judge didn’t drop the charges the end of the world would be his fault and that there were 144,000 people going to heaven and the judge wasn’t one of them.
The judge apologized for our time and said that he wasn’t sure why the charges weren’t immediately dropped because of insanity. He also remarked that the justice system is quickly becoming the mental health profession and that it isn’t good that it is.
So, we were free.
I know my experience as a juror isn’t as full-fledged as others’, but it was educational and in some ways fun. There are definitely flaws. There is a lot of wasted time, and when you’re wasting the time of 100 people, it’s pretty offensive. I understand that judges are busy, but frankly, so was every other juror who I was on a jury with.
But if you ever get the letter, do it. It’s a good experience, and they pay bookoo bucks. $9 a day and 15 cents per mile!
I also don’t live in Indiana.
If you want something to do during Jury Duty, follow me on Twitter.