This weekend I got that dreaded letter in my mailbox. A jury summons. Yep, it says I must report or else. The only excuses that fly are old-age, care for someone who can’t take care of themselves, military service and maybe death. All my excuses, “I’m on the last draft of my work-in-progress,” “I need to finish writing my query letters,” “My four hours of daily writing cannot be interrupted,” fall of deaf ears. The judge will toss me in jail if I don’t show up on the appointed day at the appointed time. No ifs ands and buts.
Many of us have done so or have been summoned to do so several times in our lives. What do we hate about it? Actually, it’s a very interesting process and one that reflects one foundation of our democracy: We are all entitled to a fair trail and are innocent until proven guilty. We are tried by our peers. Yet, more and more, juries are no longer our peers. They rarely look anything like us. The attorneys strive to find people who they can sway in their direction–in other words, people they can manipulate. If you’re too smart or too intuitive, you probably won’t get picked. If you know too much, you probably won’t get picked. How can anyone consider this process democratic? Another thing that troubles me about jury duty is the wasted/down time. We report and we wait. We wait and wait some more. There is little efficiency afforded us. We live in a free country but try and leave when you’ve been called to serve on the jury. Just try it. You’ll be held in contempt of court and subject to jail time. I’ve known people who give up their right to vote to avoid jury duty.
So, you’ve been called, you go and here are some things you can do to make the experience less dreaded:
- People watch. Better still, people observe. Check out their nonverbal cues. Listen to the dialogue all around you. Do what good writers do and learn how people relate to one another by watching.
- Make up stories about the people you see. Be creative. Imagine what that person’s life is like. Do they have kids? How do they feel about coming to jury duty?
- Learn from the process. What happens in the courtroom? If you should get called, use that time to observe the courtroom environment. How the judge acts. What to the attorneys do?
- Talk and visit with people. Find out their real stories. Stretch yourself to say ‘Hello’ to someone new.
As soon as you get home each evening, jot down some notes from the day. You probably won’t be able to take notes during the trial or during the selection. It will be a test to your memory but be sure to record your notes as soon as you can. It’d be a shame to lose all that you learned.
What experiences have you had on jury duty?
BTW, many readers love trial books and television shows. Yet, we bristle when that summons hits our mailbox. Next time don’t bristle, go and enjoy!