Both times, I was selected for the jury, and both times I was elected as jury foreman.
I really enjoyed the experience both times, and I completely fail to understand why so many in our society go to such great lengths to escape this duty and honor.
I was reminded of this again this week by a story in the Denver Post about a lady who dressed strangely, over applied her makeup and then lied about post-traumatic-stress-disorder. All to escape a few days of playing a key part in how our judicial system works.
In the United States, jury duty is usually compulsory. Employers are not allowed to fire you, and in some cases, you are compensated for your time. Not much, but it’s usually enough to buy lunch.
In the early 90’s, while living in Dade County, Florida, I was summoned to a federal jury, and ended up serving on a first degree murder trial. The case involved a young black man who had gunned down another young black man using a Tek-9 sub-machine gun.
That such a gun is even available to your average american citizen is enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. I’m all for the rights of the people to bear arms, but do we really need our own personal machine gun? I think not.
It was a most interesting case, and if you have ever been a reader of mystery novels, the evidence as laid out by the district attorney was every bit as enthralling and engaging as any novel I ever read. The entire case was built on circumstantial evidence, and was riveting.
The defense, as I recall, put on not much of a defense at all. It didn’t help that the defendant looked menacing, acted menacing, and appeared to be bored with the entire process.
Behind the scenes, juries are a group of strangers, often reluctant to talk to each other, and it was very apparent that unless someone stepped up and took the lead, we were never going to proceed with the case. No one wanted to be in charge, so I spoke up, and before I knew it, the other 11 people present had elected me foreman.
Being a jury foreman is really nothing special. It just means that you get to fill out the forms and present the verdict to the baliff. As far as what goes on in the jury room, it’s like herding a bunch of cats, or looking after a bunch of toddlers in a large room where a basket full of butterflies has just been released.
My second tour of duty as a jurist was not too long after I arrived in Colorado. I got summoned to a local county court, and ended up being selected for a jury to try a man trying to get out of a DUI charge.
I don’t know why people think they can escape a DUI these days. You get tested on a machine that has been calibrated sixty ways from Sunday, by people who get recertified every 90 days or so on how to use said machine. If you are driving drunk and get stopped by a cop and charged, you might as well just accept your penalty and move on. The cases are always iron clad, and most of the rest of us who have to serve on the juries that you ask for have little tolerance for drunk drivers. We’ve seen too many news reports about what happens when the worst of you aren’t lucky enough to get stopped before you kill a family.
Anyway, one of the few ways we can actually participate in our government without having to run for election is to serve on a Jury. I actually look forward to my retirement, where I plan on locating the nearest courthouse, and plan on spending at least one or two days a month just sitting in the back of a courtroom listening. It’s got to be at least as good as television.
Next time you get that summons in the mail, instead of thinking of it as a major pain in your life, look on it as an opportunity to see a free theatrical show, where you get to play one of the parts.