I recently finished jury duty. At least, I think I did.
Six or eight months ago I received my notice and dutifully sent it in with the requested information. Then I traveled. And I traveled again. And yet again. I’m not sure how many times as it was a busy year for that sort of thing. In any case I returned from a long overseas trip and found another notice requiring me to fill out an online form documenting that I was ready and able to be called for mandatory jury duty. I was between trips so, dutifully again, put myself on call, which would last for a two week period in January.
And the call came. Well, actually it was another letter. But this one told me to call them on Friday night after 6 pm. So I called and got a recording saying they don’t need me on Monday but I must call back Monday after 6 pm for further instructions. Did that, got another recording, this one telling me to call back Friday after 6 pm. Called again. You guessed it, call back Monday after 6 pm.
At this point I’m starting to hope that I don’t get called in for a trial because anything longer than a week or so would interfere with another trip I had scheduled. Monday comes up again and I like how the message starts…
“You are not needed at this time.”
But then, “Please call back on that specific Monday after 6 pm.”
Okay, this IS that specific Monday after 6 pm. They haven’t updated the recording. Maybe they were closed due to the big snow weekend? I try again. And again, now four times. Same obsolete message. Great. Now what.
Luckily I have a bit of OCD when it comes to things like this so on the fourth or fifth try, now after 10:30 pm, I finally get a different message:
“Your service is not needed at this time. Your jury service is complete. Thank you for your service.”
I’m still not sure whether my service wasn’t needed because 1) the federal district was remarkably free from crime lately, 2) there was an incredibly large population in the jury pool for this district, or 3) they aren’t trying cases because part of the federal government is still closed down. I suppose I’ll never know.
This isn’t the first time I haven’t served on a jury. As I type I realize this may be the longest I’ve ever lived in one house. At the very least it’s a tie about to be broken. So maybe I’ve just kept moving so much that the powers that be haven’t caught up to me. Then again, I actually have been called for jury service in the past, a few times in fact. Once or twice I had the joy of sitting in a large barren and cold waiting room with a hundred or three others, only to be told at the end of an excruciatingly boring day that my service is complete. Once I made it up to an oppressively hot courtroom and sat in the rock-hard, pew-like benches while other potential jurors were grilled by the prosecutor and defense attorney, a process known as voir dire (roughly translated, “to speak the truth”). Long before they got to me they sat a full jury and told the rest of us to skedaddle on back home; our service was complete.
Many decades ago my father sat on a jury in a rape case. He was the jury foreman. After they gave their verdict – guilty – the judge told them that this particular man had been tried for five previous rapes, each trial ending in a hung jury and not retried by the prosecutors office. To this day my Dad is proud of the public service he performed back then. I don’t recall my mother ever saying she sat on a jury. That may be because of gender discrimination back in the day, or because she had a passel of kids to raise on top of working outside the home. I’ll have to ask her about that.
Some time ago I was told by someone I don’t remember that prosecutors and defense attorneys didn’t like to seat jurors having too much education or who had professional jobs (other lawyers, in particular, were verboten). They wanted to be able to sell their case to people who were willing to listen. Apparently the idea was that the greater the professional expertise, the less likely you could be counted on to fall in line. As a scientist and historian, my careers require me to question information, assess reliability, make logical judgments, and determine the best course of action or result. Those would seem ideal characteristics for a juror, especially in this age of forensic evidence. But perhaps attorneys were concerned that such people might overwhelm the other jurors, take control of the jury box, and by sheer power of authority convince the rest of the members of the case one way or another, thus taking some of the power of persuasion away from the attorneys.
Or maybe none of that is true. I haven’t gotten far enough into the jury selection process to have an attorney use his peremptory challenges to get rid of me. I may still get a chance. When I filled out the initial official form it said something about being available for two years. I’m not sure getting a pass this month means the end or if I could be called again anytime with the remaining 1-1/2 years left. At the very least, I’ll know a year and half from now, if not before. Either way, I suppose there will be another cycle or two.
David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.