On Friday, I did my civic duty. The one that nearly everyone dreads: Jury Duty. I took advantage of a free bus ride (because I was answering a Jury Duty summons) to the courthouse and arrived about fifteen minutes before 9:00, my official reporting time. Perfect. I joined the other lucky contestants – about 60 of us in all – in a large room lined with padded church pews. Eventually, our summonses were collected by the Jury Administrator who then dealt with any irregularities.
One man was wearing shorts despite the part on the jury summons that specifically forbids it. The Jury Administrator pulled him aside and had a chat with him. I couldn’t hear what was said since the conversation was private, but I know she was addressing his attire because she pulled a Jury Duty summons from the pile and pointed to the spot that addressed what is and is not appropriate to wear to Jury Duty. When he walked back down the aisle, he did not have a happy look on his face.
After she made sure everyone was properly checked in, we watched a five-minute film narrated by a judge to inform us of the Jury Duty process and to thank us for taking the time out of our busy schedules to provide others a trial by jury – a right not enjoyed in too many other parts of the world.
Once the film had concluded, the Jury Administrator said “All Rise!” and a real judge came in and had a seat. She answered any further questions we had, and there were many. One person asked why we were only being paid $6 for the day and how long it had been this way. The judge answered humorously, “Since about 1066 and the Norman Invasion, and as to why it’s still only $6, I have no idea. Next question.” Once all the questions were answered, this judge, too, thanked us for taking the time to show up for Jury Duty and impressed upon us the importance of providing an individual a trial by jury. And then she left.
And then we waited. And waited. And waited. At 11:45, we still had not been called, so the Jury Administrator sent us to lunch and told us to be back by 1:15. I didn’t feel like leaving the building to look for food out of pure laziness: I didn’t want to walk in the oppressive heat, I didn’t want to have to decide where to go or what to get, I didn’t want to have to deal with the lunch crowds, and I didn’t want to go through security check to get back into the building. Why hadn’t I packed a lunch?
So I meandered down to the snack machines and scored myself a burrito which I warmed in the microwave. When I took the burrito out, both ends were lava hot and the middle was still cold. Naturally.
When I returned to the Jury Assembly Room, I still had a good hour to kill before everyone was due back. I saw a lady lying on one of the pews. That looks like a good idea, I thought to myself. So I did the same, figuring the lady who had shared the pew with me that morning wouldn’t be back for quite some time. After a while, I got bored with lying down. I had apparently already gotten enough of a nap earlier that morning, so I pulled out my iPad and played a game for a while, then switched to working on a crochet project I’ve been trying to finish.
Eventually, lunchtime was over, everyone had returned, and we waited some more. At about 2:00, my group of fourteen was finally collected by a police officer and escorted upstairs to a courtroom. The case was a man caught speeding in traffic. The prosecuting and defending attorneys both had their opportunities to talk to us and ask us questions, both as a group and individually, and then we waited to see which six lucky ones would be on the jury for the trial. My name was called fifth.
After the sixth juror’s name was called, the remaining eight jurors were thanked and dismissed. And the trial began. This was not my first time on a jury. About five years ago, I served on a jury involving the sexual assault of a minor. NOBODY wanted to be on THAT jury. That was a tough trial to go through, but the evidence was clear and we felt we gave the defendant a fair sentence.
This time, a gentleman who had received a speeding ticket one morning on his way to work was contesting his ticket. We heard again from the prosecuting attorney who interviewed the police officer who wrote the ticket, then the defense attorney. And then the gentleman contesting the ticket took the stand in his own defense. This went on for about 45 minutes, and then both sides rested their cases. We were escorted back to the Jury Deliberation Room to decide whether the defendant was “not guilty” or “guilty,” and if “guilty” we were to assess a fine between $1 and $200.
Since there were only two of us who had ever served on a jury before, I volunteered to be the foreman since I knew the newbies were clueless about the entire process. And then I started the conversation: “Well, what does everyone think?”
One point that was brought up in the trial is that while many states have speed limits etched in stone, Texas does not, and there are many situations in which a driver may legally exceed the posted speed limit. Rushing someone to the hospital, for example.
We quickly concluded that the defendant was going with the flow of traffic – already over the speed limit – and that, in fact, had he tried to stick to the speed limit, he would have been putting himself and others in danger. He was not driving erratically and was staying in one lane. He was just the unlucky guy who happened to be pulled over among all the other people exceeding the speed limit that morning. We decided he’d gotten a raw deal and voted for “not guilty.” It took us less than ten minutes to come to a decision. I filled out and signed the back sheet of the court document and the deed was done.
We rang the bell to let the bailiff and judge know that we were ready, and we were escorted back out into the Jury Box. I handed the document over to the bailiff who handed it to the judge. She turned to the last page and read the “not guilty” verdict, and I knew that we had made the right decision.