I was called for jury duty yesterday. I’ve never been able to serve before, and I can’t say I was all that happy to see the notice arrive in the mail…but, hey, here was an everyday adventure, ready and waiting for me.
I arrived at the courthouse a few minutes before my scheduled appearance time, and promptly set off the walk-through security alarm. After being wanded and showing my ankles (!!) to the security guard, I rode the escalator to the second floor where I checked in. Thus began the waiting.
After an hour in the main area with probably 150 other people, the clerks called my name in a group of 36. We were given two and a half hours until we needed to appear at the appointed courtroom, where we would be questioned by the prosecuting and defense attorneys as they chose a jury for a criminal trial set to take place later in the week.
It was too early for lunch, so I found myself a padded chair in a quiet area where I read the book I’d brought (Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety, which I highly recommend) until I was ready to eat. When I was ready, I decided to opt for more mild adventure: skip the courthouse cafeteria and find an appealing restaurant downtown.
I set off briskly, avoiding the occasional giver-of-pamphlets or homeless person. It was a beautiful day, sunny and not too hot and quite a few people were out. I noticed the downtown area had the same smell many large cities have: a combination of exhaust and rotting garbage. Nice. Fortunately, the smell wasn’t constant. Right about the time I began to regret my choice of shoes (I was dressed in “business casual,” instead of my usual shorts and t-shirt), I glanced down a side street and saw: a used and out-of-print bookstore! I detoured to spend a few blissful minutes looking through the shelves and breathing in that special used-bookstore smell. I found no treasures, but discovering the store there at all was a treat.
After lunch at a First Watch, a breakfast/brunch/lunch restaurant, I reentered the courthouse (setting off the alarm again…wand…ankles…) and returned to my quiet corner. At 1:30, I and my fellow prospective jurors met up outside the courtroom, where we found them running behind, and guess what? More waiting. Finally, after 2:30 we entered the courtroom.
According to Wikipedia, the process by which prospective jurors (also called veniremen) are questioned regarding their backgrounds and possible biases is called voir dire. (Voir dire also refers to the questioning of potential expert witnesses. The words come from the Anglo-French, literally meaning “to speak the truth.”) I won’t further bore you with the details, but two hours later, the attorneys from both sides had questioned every member of the 36-person group in some way. I was impressed by the professionalism and patience of all the court personnel I dealt with (even Wand Guy), and gained respect for the whole process. I felt that both defense and prosecuting attorneys treated the potential jurors kindly and respectfully, even when questioning us about some pretty personal matters (though we were given the option of speaking privately with the judge and attorneys if something was too sensitive for public consumption).
Six hours after I arrived, I left for home. I wasn’t chosen for the jury—and I’m glad. A girl can stand only so much adventure in one week.