“Are you reporting for jury duty? Here’s some information. Please line up over there.”
I open the pamphlet I have just been handed. The first thing I read in bold letters is “to serve as a juror is an honor.”
Why don’t I feel very honored?
I’m 41 years old, and this is the first time I’ve ever been called for jury duty. I’m feeling lots of things about this experience…annoyed, nervous, mildly misanthropic. But I’m not feeling honored.
When I check in, I want to say, “You know, this really isn’t a convenient time for me. I’ve got a lot of stuff going on right now, and being stuck in a sterile room with a slice of the county – most of whom probably don’t want to be here either – isn’t really working for me.”
But I guess it’s not really a convenient time for the folks who are on trial either. So I just keep that thought to myself.
My decision soon proves wise as I am waiting in line for the bathroom with a few other potential jurors. The lady in front of me is engaging in some over-dramatics about how she does NOT have time for this, and she is just SO busy. It isn’t a good look. I am thankful that even if I am thinking those same things, at least my silence about them means I only have to look bad to myself. And I guess to my husband, who heard my complaints about having to serve in the several days prior…and my sister, whom I complained to as I asked her to pick up my kids from school in my absence…and my friend Megan, whom I texted rough drafts of all the excuses I could use to keep myself from getting picked for a jury…and my mom, because, well, she’s my mom and that’s who you complain to. So, er, yeah. Now I’m feeling bad about all that.
But I digress.
I want to turn to that lady and say, “Oh, that’s right. You’re the only busy one. I think you should get to go home. I’m feeling super bad for you. You successfully elicited all the sympathy from the rest of us who are also quarantined in a day-long paradise of forced polite small talk, spotty WiFi service, having to sit too close to strangers, and bearing the weight of the knowledge that you might have to decide the fate of another human being.”
I also keep that thought to myself.
But, since our judicial system is all about telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, I will confess to smirking when over-dramatic bathroom lady is called to be interviewed for the first case.
Then my name is called to be questioned for the second case. So I guess silent feelings of annoyance and entitlement are just as ripe for karma. Well-played, Universe.
Dear God, I don’t want to be on a jury.
I feel the familiar sensation in my stomach, the one probably felt by other wussy scare babies who don’t like being in unfamiliar situations and have approximately zero confidence in their ability to handle them. What if I actually get picked as one of the twelve to do the actual “we find the defendant guilty/not guilty” thing? I attempt a coping mechanism called “being an adult” and rationalize that I’m worrying about something that 1) hasn’t happened yet and 2) I have no control over. But PSYCH! Those are the TOP TWO things my anxiety thrives on! My anxiety writes love letters to things I can’t control that haven’t happened yet.
My fears materialize as the judge walks in to give us the low-down on the process we are about to take part in.
“The case we are trying is a criminal one…”
Seriously. I can’t do this. No one should want me as the juror in a trial, let alone a criminal trial. Here’s the thing, people. I kind of feel like I don’t know how I feel about anything. (Even that statement is about the least decisive sentence ever written. And look, I’m not even sure it’s the least decisive. There could be more indecisive sentences. I don’t know.) I can’t even feel confident in what I order at a restaurant. I have literally spent an hour deciding between two practically identical fonts to use on an invitation that was going to be seen by approximately 25 people, all of whom I’m related to and have to love me anyway. How am I supposed to decide if a living, breathing person is innocent or guilty?
Did ya’ll watch Making a Murderer? Or The Staircase? Because I did. And I knew they were guilty. And then I knew they were innocent. And then guilty again. And then innocent again. And then I wanted to ask someone if there was an option C. You know, like when your doctor asks if you’re a drinker or not a drinker, and you respond, “Just a social drinker.” Because it kind of lets you be a little of both, am I right?
I would 100% be the juror who, as the foreman is getting ready to read the verdict, might sheepishly raise her hand and be like, “Um, actually…I think I want to change my answer.” If I were cast in 12 Angry Men, I’d nail the part of Juror #8, whom everyone hates because they’ve all made their decision and are ready to go home and take their pants off, while I’m over here saying, “but maybe…” And even if I did come to a conclusion, I’d go home and keep myself up at night worrying I had made the wrong one, and I’d end up with a giant volcano pimple smack in the middle of my face. I’m 41 years old, people. I shouldn’t have to be dealing with acne anymore.
Here’s another thing. I also have this certain prejudice that could drastically alter how I feel about a case: cute old men. My prejudice is that I always love them and believe anything they say because they are cute and old. So if the accused party is a cute old man, I’m going to think he’s innocent. If the prosecuting attorney is a cute old man, that defendant is going down. If one of the witnesses is a cute old man, I’m Team Whichever Side Cute Old Man Is On. If the judge is a cute old man, I won’t even know how I feel about the case because instead of listening to testimony, I’ll just be making goo-goo eyes at how adorably his bald head compliments his robe and wondering if his grandkids call him something squee-worthy like Judge Gramps or Papa JuJu.
Is a prejudice for cute old men enough to get me stricken from a case? Maybe. But spoiler alert: they don’t ask about that.
What they do ask about are lots of things that either confuse me or make me uncomfortable.
Some of the questions sound kind of like “If Train A leaves the station at 3:00, and Train B leaves the station at 5:00, and the wind is moving at 40 mph in a northeast direction, and Train Engineer A is PMS-ing pretty hard, and it would probably be faster to just take a flight instead, would you be able to come the conclusion that the defendant is guilty?”
Um, yes? Wait. No? I mean…what?
Other questions feel like they should only be answered in a confessional with a priest present. To give them credit, they do allow you to approach the bench to discuss sensitive issues privately instead of in front of the whole courtroom. But everyone sees you walk up there, sees you whispering to the judge and the lawyers, sees the court reporter still typing every word you say for the official record. And of course, they’re all speculating what you could be saying in confidence. Maybe she can’t be impartial because the same thing happened to her. Maybe she used to date the defendant. I bet he dumped her. Their kids would be super ugly. Maybe she has IBS and can’t sit through a trial because of unpredictable explosive diarrhea. Do you think the court reporter had to actually type “explosive diarrhea?” *hehe* Now there’s going to be an official court document that says “explosive diarrhea.”
By the end of the process, I not only have zero confidence in my ability to discern the innocence or guilt of the defendant, but I don’t even know what I think about myself. The examinations by the two lawyers make me feel like I’m racist one minute, tolerant the next. A good judge of character, but also someone who might get in a car with Jeffrey Dahmer. A real life Atticus Finch, with moments of Bob Ewell popping through. Actually, I wish I was Boo Radley, hiding away from all of humanity and the ugliness that creates the need for court cases in the first place. I am also still trying to figure out that scenario with the PMS-ing train engineer.
My inner turmoil over my juror-worthy potential must not be as “inner” as I think it is. It must be written all over my face, because I am not picked to be one of the chosen twelve. Either that, or the defense attorney probably isn’t thrilled that I’m related to a police captain.
The reason doesn’t matter to me. I’m relieved. And as it turns out, I do actually feel honored. Honored to have just been nominated, not picked.
Here’s to hoping if I ever have to serve again, I’ll be the Susan Lucci of jury duty.