There are many things that can be complained about in the States, but fundamentally it’s a nice place to live. There are some responsibilities to be discharged in that society, however: voting, paying taxes, and serving on a jury.
Paying taxes (or at least filing tax returns) is something I’ve done since before I worked full time, and I’ve voted fairly consistently when I’ve had the opportunity (apart from a few years in Britain when I lived in places where the sitting majorities were overwhelming) but jury service is something I had not able to do until this week.
I was eligible to serve in Britain for fifteen years, but I was never called. When I moved to the States, even before I gained my US citizenship, I was called twice* – of course I was not eligible and was excused. So when I received the juror summons a few weeks ago it was with a sense of it having caught up with me at last. I’ve never been in a courtroom before so the notes here are necessarily to do with the US system in general, and the Oregon system in particular.
The trial process is called “deliberations” for a reason – it’s careful, and there are no shortcuts. The judge made it clear that there would be breaks regularly, but that if a potential juror needed to take a necessary break then the proceedings would be suspended until they returned – there are rules about everything in the court being performed in front of the entire panel.
I was in a selection pool for a fourteen person jury, called out from the waiting area in the first batch of jurors for the pool, and after twenty jurors were excused for schedule reasons we finally started the actual selection fifteen minutes before breaking for lunch. We took turns answering a set of standard questions, then individual questions of the pool members took up the rest of the day until dismissal and continued the next morning.
There were three lawyers who asked questions (one for the plaintiffs, two of the three defendants’ representatives) and so the questions were not completed until half past ten on the second day. At that point we were told to take a long break, then to wait in a neighbouring room while the juror selection itself was made privately.
I was not selected.
I will not pretend that I am sad about being excused. The trial was scheduled to take two weeks, and although this was specified as a possibility on the summons (two days service being required) I can ill afford two weeks away from the day job at this time.
And yet, and yet… the brief glimpse I had was very interesting, and the majesty of the setting was impressive. I think it would have been an involving case had I been selected.
I was glad to be able to serve in some capacity, and that I was able to hear the stories my fellow jurors told of their lives – or at least those parts the lawyers asked about.
It’s an important part of the society we live in. I hope to be able to serve again at some point in the future.
Have you ever been on a jury?
[*] they use the driving license records to select juror candidates, it transpires.