Notes on Jury Duty

Just finished taking part in a jury selection process which lasted four days: 95 potential jurors for a 4-6 week criminal murder trial. The process was amazingly, painfully inefficient in so many ways, but only because it’s FAIR in the extreme. Which is great. For example, at one point, we had to sit in the hallway (most of us on the floor) for 2.5 hours because one person couldn’t hear well and they had to track down assistive listening devices to make sure that *everyone* could hear, no exceptions.

Almost every single potential juror was interviewed about whether they knew anyone in law enforcement, whether they had ever experienced violence, whether they had biases on account of the suspect already being in custody, how they felt about the concept of aiding and abetting, about the paradox of innocent until proven guilty, etc. (each question with an eye toward any bias it might impart in the juror).

It was *amazing* to hear everyones’ stories and opinions. Our country is so diverse, so strange, so wonderful. One person was a politics and law professor. The next has spent his life in the projects, and his own son was murdered (“execution style”) outside his house. One person works at a big box store, the next claimed to have beaten up by cops . The next was a toxicological soil inspector. The next  a lifetime NRA member. The next  a social worker who doesn’t trust the judicial system based on what she’s seen. The next is from a large law enforcement family. The next refuses to look at photos that involve blood, the next had a job incinerating amputated limbs and things at a hospital (so gore means nothing to them). It just went on and on.

And there was so much personal philosophy – some of it clear, some of it muddy. I was fascinated by how skillfully the judge and the attorneys got people to drill in on their fuzzy ideas with laser focus – so many people changed their original opinions after a few minutes of dialog, and came around to admitting that perhaps they weren’t quite as biased as they thought they were after all.

For the first couple of days, I was frustrated, trying to figure out a workable escape plan. By the end of the process, I was all-in, and ready to give up work for a month just for the privilege of participating. I really wanted to jump out of my day job and into this strange world, to have this totally new experience. But, unfortunately, I was one of only eight people who never got questioned (the order is randomly determined, and they had finally chosen the jury just before they got to me). Still, I feel like I learned more about our country in just a few days of listening to real people talk than in a lifetime of watching the news.

I’m a bit bummed not to have been selected, truth be told.

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