I received my Jury Summons a few weeks ago – it’s always a shock to see that blue envelope – it’s like getting a parking ticket or one of those speeding tickets caught by a mounted camera. You didn’t intentionally do anything wrong and yet you are being summoned to court.
Starting Sunday, I called in for three nights in a row and my luck held out – a recording told me YOU ARE NOT REQUIRED TO REPORT TO COURT TOMORROW PLEASE CALL AFTER 5 PM TOMORROW. I breathed a sigh of relief and went about my days. I called Wednesday night expecting to hear the same but there it was… REPORT AT 8:30 AM TOMORROW MORNING with directions on where to go and what to bring (a pen with black ink) and what not to bring (phones, laptops, electronics).
I showed up at 8:30 am at 500 Pearl Street – WITH my cellphone and WITHOUT a pen. After going through security and having my phone charger picked up on the Xray I idiotically answered YES when asked if I had a cell phone.Trick question. The man unceremoniously handed me a numbered ticket in exchange for said cell phone. I thought it best not to put up a struggle.
I entered the large waiting area and took a seat trying to imagine the next seven hours without my cell phone or a book or anyone I knew within a mile. My anxiety was palpable – drawing the attention of an equally stressed out guy behind me. We commiserated as we filled out papers as instructed (with a borrowed pen) and tried to figure out our chances of getting picked.
The assistant DA came into the room. After a few announcements the lights started to dim, shades descended from the top of the large windows and he announced that we would be watching a “short” 30 minute film! This film depicted people being asked to be on a Grand Jury – showing how it worked, how important it was to fill this civic duty, and how much people got out of doing this duty. All I could think of was how do I GET OUT of doing this duty. Part of me thought it might be interesting – after all I watch Dateline NBC and love to figure out interesting crime cases…but they repeatedly mentioned the vow of secrecy surrounding the proceedings in a Grand Jury and I was pretty sure that would be a problem for me.
The lights came on, and the shades stayed down – adding more drama to the DA’s next announcement – they would be picking 23 people to serve on the Grand Jury – who would serve 5 days a week for a period of no less than 30 days — Hey wait – didn’t my envelope say two weeks!!? Civic duty is one thing but 30 days started to seem like a sentence. It got worse. They would be picking 2 alternate jurors who would serve for 2 days a week for 14 months – that seemed like a LIFE sentence. I don’t even think criminals serve 14 months. And they probably get to look out a window. Now I was worried. The guy behind me was worried.
We listened carefully for an escape route as they listed the six excuses that the judge would consider. The first one wouldn’t work–I’m not over the age of 70 even though my feet feel like they are. Next one – having small kids at home. Does a 25 year old son living at home count? He still needs me to pick up his socks off the floor and put toilet paper in his bathroom. Another – am I the sole caretaker of an elderly parent? My parents are in Florida and though they probably shouldn’t be driving – they do and while they would like me to be there, I’m not. The other excuses were lack of knowledge of English, or having been a convicted felon, or serving in the military or being a police officer or firefighter. No excuses here. I started to panic. I started to get creative. I started twitching in my seat and stretching my back – prepared to use back pain as an excuse. My “friend” behind me started “remembering” the two business trips he needed to take in March. I started thinking about how I volunteer at a hospital on Thursdays and how they depend on me (that is actually true) and how I suffer from migraine headaches (somewhat true) and how I had once robbed a liquor store in college (definitely not true).
I felt like Katniss Everdeen during the reaping as they started picking the juror’s names one by one out of a wooden box. My odds of winning the recent record breaking PowerBall were about one in a billion and I was confident. Here I had a MUCH greater probability of getting picked and I prayed I wouldn’t be.
The first order of business was picking the Grand Jury. As he said each name, and I heard a different consonant that wasn’t an “S” exiting his lips, I breathed a little sigh of relief. After the first 23 names were read those who were now moved to the left side of the room got their turn to speak to the judge one at a time about an excuse. Apparently there were more than six. Little by little there were only about 10 left. They repeated this process. More names were read, and more people had excuses. Every person around me was called. My buddy was called. He was excused. I was praying his empty chair wasn’t soon to be filled with my body. My fingers were tapping. My feet were twitching about. My heart rate was increasing. Steven Avery looked more relaxed than me during his murder trial, documented on the Netflix series Making a Murderer. This process went on until the Grand Jury was picked. Great – except now they were going to pick the last two alternates. The 14 month commitment. Twice a week. One hundred and twenty days. In a courtroom. For $40 a day. Few seemed to want to do this. I wanted to text a friend to share my panic only to remember I had no phone.
There were 23 people in the Grand Jury seats. There were about 90 people in the excused people area. There were about 25 people remaining on my side. There were very good odds they would call my name. I ran through my list of excuses and wondered which one to use or if I should spit out all of them and hope one stuck. I imaged me telling my husband (a law school graduate ) how I had allowed myself to get a 14 month jury position.
The last two names were called. They were excused. Then two more names. They weren’t mine. They weren’t excused. I breathed a sigh of relief. I asked a man sitting next to me if he thought we were safe. “Yes,” he said, “ as long as they don’t ask us to come back and do this again tomorrow.” My face twisted in fear. Ten minutes later those who weren’t selected for the Grand Jury were asked to go into the hallway. The announcement that our Jury Duty was complete was met with cheers and applause. So much for civic duty. I felt that I had been acquitted. I used my Get Out of Jail Free card… for four more years