My experience with jury duty
Posted on Jan 10, 2013 in Opinion
Most people who think about jury duty cringe at the mere idea. The thoughts of interminable trials, insufferable boredom, and indecision in the jury room are just some of the more negative connotations that the two words carry. Oh, and you probably won’t be able to flaunt the pay either, which might be the biggest bummer of all. The first action a person might want to do when the dreaded summons comes in the mail is to find some convenient excuse – whether it is real or fabricated – to get out of service.
When I was called to my first jury duty, I didn’t know what to expect. The jury poolroom was packed, and surprisingly, most of those summoned would rather have been willfully standing in line at the DMV than be there. We were called into groups to be interviewed for specific court cases. A person was either selected to be one of the potential jurors in a trial or was sent back to the pool.
Without getting into specifics about my case, I would surely describe it as difficult in its subject matter and one that required mental and emotional fortitude. When the trial started, I was nervous about working with complete strangers to come to a resolution. Especially when considering that it can be hard enough to work with classmates for a group project, even if you choose them. My fears turned out to be unwarranted, though, because the others selected for the trial were a delight to collaborate with.
Initially, everyone was very attentive during the presentation of the case. After the judge read the charges under consideration as well as their legal bases, we were to come up with a unanimous agreement on each one. If we ruled in favor of the plaintiff, we also would have to consider awarding damage compensation. We wrote all of the charges on a white board, along with the conditions that must be satisfied for each, and took a preliminary vote to see which charges were the most disputed amongst us.
Next, we would review the areas which lacked consensus. Talking abstractly led to some disagreements, but as we deliberated over the key phrases of every charge’s description, there was an agreement reached amongst us. Whenever there was a roadblock, we would take a break to clear our minds. The calculation of the potential compensation was even more difficult to consider because this wasn’t a case where damages were easily quantifiable. So, we set a precursory amount and adjusted it based on more debate.
As our conversation developed, the views from those in the minority came to the forefront and I began to question the certainty invested in my initial perspective. The dissimilar views forced me to look at the case from a completely different point of view. As a result, I ended up considering aspects of the case I probably wouldn’t have otherwise and ruled accordingly.
In addition to broadening my perspective, the trial also taught me about the nuances of the legal process. Even though I have taken law classes, there’s no substitute for a first-hand experience. In the classroom, subjects can lose their relevance in relation to the bigger picture. However, by being in court, I was able to note how abstract legal concepts pertain to an actual situation.
Most people will continue to dread jury duty despite some idealistic descriptions. Nonetheless, my hope is that everyone will keep an open-mind about the process. The importance of a jury trial as a basic tenant of government should not be lost especially in an age when corporations feature mediation and arbitration clauses into workers’ contracts and some people are fighting to see their day in court.