On Jury Duty

I served, ever-so-briefly, as a juror in a criminal trial this week. Here’s what I learned.

  1. When you tell others that you have been summoned, they will tell you how to get out of it.

Seriously. This is the number one reaction. My observation: it isn’t socially acceptable to the working public to serve on a jury. And I get it. I’m a freelance consultant; I’m only paid for the hours I work. I earned a whopping $20 for two days of service (and they’ll pay mileage to my zip code, which is maybe 3-4 miles away.) I had to cancel meetings only to re-schedule them minutes later upon learning that the schedule had changed. It’s a very fluid process. It’s also a very bad day for the defendant.

Every person of authority in the justice system who spoke to the potential jury pool acknowledged the fact that none of us probably really wanted to be there. Once voir dire began, though, we were given multiple opportunities to declare that jury duty would be an inconvenience, a hardship, a conflict with our religious beliefs. No one took any of those outs, which made me wonder if we were all taking it very seriously. I know I was.

2. If you have served on a jury, you’ll probably remember the experience.

Chances are pretty good that most of us will be summoned sooner or later. The people with whom I’ve spoken in the last few weeks who have actually served or been called remember a surprising number of details: the nature of the case, how long they served, how much they were paid for their service. The gravity of the situation is real.

3. Civic duty looks like a lot of different things.

The final surprising observation: once someone found out that I was actually going to serve, they usually thanked me for my service. This made me feel good. It also made me realize that I am often content with letting someone else do the stuff that’s important, but inconvenient, or uncomfortable. Jury duty is no more or less important that many of the other things we need to do in society to keep things going, to keep us all healthy and safe. We shouldn’t get a pass just because we voted, or volunteered at a community event, and have decided that we’ve engaged enough.

I’m writing this to remind myself that there are a lot of things we can do to strengthen our democracy. Jury duty is just one of those things, and there are more that I can be and should be doing if I really care about where I live.

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