George Gordon Meade by NCinDC
Last week, for the first time in my life, I was summoned for jury duty. Imagine the horrified look on my face when I received notice in the mail that sure enough, my time had come, the time to sit all day in a waiting room full of complete strangers and hope that I didn’t get picked as a juror. My friends had all told me how terrible it was and provided me with many excuses to get out of being picked. “Tell them that your uncle is a cop. Tell them that you could never judge another person for what they may or may not have done. Tell them that you’re a racist pig. Tell them you have an uncontrollable bladder.” But somehow, deep down inside, I had a morbid curiosity of seeing our legal system in action and actually did want to be picked. I wanted to be on a jury of peers, to listen to a case, hear the judge bang on his desk with a gavel, hear an attorney yell, “Objection!”, deliberate for hours, and finally deliver a verdict which would decide the fate of the defendant. I wanted Law & Order, only this wasn’t TV.
Once I was actually able to find the courthouse (a nice police woman pointed me in the right direction), I made it through security, but only after telling the guard not to lecture me like a five year old. I made my way upstairs, got in line, handed my summons and ID to the woman at the desk, and there I was: juror number 347.
We were instructed to sit in the juror’s waiting room where I drank my coffee and ate my muffin, only to see the sign which read “No Food or Drink” when I threw away my trash. I was amazed by the different types of people in the room with me. One old man had the biggest beard I’d ever seen and looked like a resident of West Virginia, not DC. The girl in front of me was studying for her law class, highlighting more lines in her book than not. One guy across the room kept blabbering away on his cell phone, while another one paced up and down the isle. I read The Express for the first time in months and learned that public nudity is sometimes OK in the state of Oregon. “So now what?” I thought. What were we waiting for?
Just then, three women came to the front of the room and attempted to get the microphone working as if it was their first time doing this. “Can everyone hear me in the back?” she asked. “No,” someone replied. “If you can’t hear me, why did you say ‘no’?” Everyone chuckled. Well nearly everyone.
The women began to explain how important it was being a juror, that we’d be seeing a short instructional video on how to be a juror, and that if we had any questions afterward that we “should be sure to axe them.” The video began to play and I felt like I was watching an outdated filmstrip in elementary school. A man with a serious porn star mustache rode up the Metro escalator with his summons in hand. He and some not so attractive people from the 80’s sat in a court room, listened to a case, had wild sex, then delivered their verdict. It’s entirely possible that I imagined the sex part, and if so, I attribute it to the guy’s mustache.
So we waited. And waited. And waited. Finally we were told that there was a good chance that we’d all be let go early today, much to the joy of the guy behind me. He kept sighing and saying, “Don’t pick me. Let me go. Let’s get this over with.” Clearly he had somewhere he’d prefer to be. She began calling people’s last names along with their juror number, and sure enough my name and “347” left her mouth. “Present,” I said. I was one step closer to being on a jury.
All of those whose names had been called were instructed to follow her to the court room where we lined up outside in the order she’d called us in. We were given a sheet of paper and told that it would be thoroughly explained to use by the judge once we got inside. She passed around a box of pencils and I realized it was the first time I’d held a No. 2 pencil in probably a decade, so sharp and so simple, it somehow brought back good memories. We then filed into the court room and were sat in an orderly fashion. Seated at desks in the front were who I assumed were the lawyers on the case. They both eyed everyone as they sat down, probably making a mental list of who they knew they wouldn’t pick. Had they already ruled me out? Was I too tall? Did I look too interested or eager? Could they tell I wanted to be picked?
The lady next to me was reading a religious book of some sort. I caught a peek of it and the chapter was called “Order”. The woman on the other side of me was already writing on her piece of paper, something about an upcoming Jewish holiday. I started to read my Discover magazine, yawned (as did the defendant), and quickly began to fall asleep. Just then Judge Dixon came into the room and again began to explain how important it was to be a juror. He was very well spoken which is to be expected of a judge I suppose (although he didn’t give us the definition of ‘second degree murder’), and he finally explained that our sheet of paper was a list of potential reasons why we thought we could not carry out our duty as a juror. People began scribbling, circling, and checking their papers, and I circled the one called “Hardship”. As a self employed, hourly employee, every day I’m not at work means money out of my pocket. This was the only foreseeable reason I could see that would prevent me from being on the case.
When the judge finally called me up, I explained to him that should I be picked for this 4-5 day trial, I’d be missing out on some major cash. He said that he and the attorneys would take that into consideration, but it didn’t automatically rule me out. I guess sometimes you have to pay a price to be a citizen of our country.
After every potential juror was screened, they began to call out numbers. Sure enough, the clerk said, “Number 347, please sit in seat number 11.” There I was, sitting in the juror’s box. “This could be my seat for the next few days,” I thought. I’m going to be listening to policemen, friends, relatives, forensic scientists, and perhaps hear the defendant himself scream, “You can’t handle the truth!” But as I began to face up to this reality, the clerk said, “Number 347, please take a seat.”
So that was it. In roughly five hours, I’d seen some interesting people, learned the importance of being a juror, read one Express newspaper, one Discover magazine, and a taken a short nap. By the time I’m eligible for jury duty again, I think it’s safe to say I’ll be living in another city where hopefully the instructional video will feature an attractive woman, not a man with a porn star mustache.
Eh. Not so bad.