Jury Duty is the weirdest social experiment I’ve ever taken part in.
This past Tuesday, I went up to the George Allen Civil Court building and sat in a room with no air conditioning. I sat and read for an hour, waiting for the assembly to begin, fit with an outdated video about the general process of being on a jury. Then we had a break. (Get used to that).
After the break, the judge swore us all in and one of the employees read off the groupings of people needed upstairs for the various courts. There were six groups needed, and I happened to be the last number called. Lucky me!
Once upstairs, there was (obviously) more waiting. After about twenty minutes, the man we would later learn to be the judge comes out and says that there has been a “shuffle.” One side had requested that the names/numbers we were assigned be adjusted, so we were forced to wait a little bit longer. Upon the bailiff’s instructions, we were lined up 1-40, with me being 11 (keep in mind we already knew that this would be a twelve-person jury. Thank you, “shuffle”).
Next comes the voir dire:
voir dire // ˌvwär ˈdir // noun // LAW
a preliminary examination of a witness or a juror by a judge or counsel.
Basically, the lawyers ask you a bunch of semi-related questions to see if you would be super detrimental (or biased) to be on the jury. Do you recognize either of the parties in question? Have you ever been in a car accident? Or my personal favorite: do you think of yourself as a leader in your own life?
I wasn’t surprised when I was selected to be on the jury. As I hadn’t raised any red flags, I expected my newest title of, “Juror #6.”
Thus began the trial.
I knew that this would be nothing like what I see on TV, but I didn’t expect it to be that different. I also didn’t expect me to consistently fight the desire to raise my hand and ask questions. The most frustrating part for me was having these huge missing chunks of information due to redactions or merely their lack of discussions. Did you talk to X person? Did you check the traffic cameras? There were really no witnesses? These were the kind of questions that were never actually resolved. From my perspective, there were hundreds of directions I could have taken the case to make everything a lot better, but then again, I’m not a lawyer.
Once the two days were over (and we’d been sent back to the jury room seven times so that the judge and lawyers could “discuss things”), we were locked in the jury room. I will note that it isn’t as scary as it sounds – there are a bathroom and coffee and a refrigerator (the essentials). As we began deliberation, it was interesting how easily we began to fall into rhythms. We had to work through the charge of the court (the questions that the jury has to answer regarding negligence and money awarded) and fairly easily came to a consensus.
I know that this ease isn’t always the case (and that ours may have been the odd one out), but it was so interesting sitting in a room with strangers debating details of a case that we had barely skimmed the surface on. Who are we to decide this?, I kept asking myself.
Ultimately, we did it! I’m honestly proud of us for making out of everything alive. By the end, we all had inside jokes and had spoken about unusually deep topics. In a horribly cliche way, it felt like at the end of The Breakfast Club where we all walked out together toward our (very) separate lives. Is that idealistic of me?
While I hope that I don’t get called for jury duty for another long while, it wasn’t as bad as everyone made it out to be.
General Jury Duty Tips:
- bring a book
- bring a portable phone charger
- don’t lose your parking slip – you’ll likely need it to get validated