Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Jury Duty

When you have to juggle a lot of roles every day, a disruption to your routine can feel like a real curveball. That's how I felt when I got a summons for jury duty. I've been summoned before, but either I no longer lived in the area or didn't get called for standby duty. This time, there was no standby option, and I'd been assigned to a court in the city of Chicago, where I don't drive. Fortunately, a friend was able to pick my son up after school, and I was able to use the Metra train and Uber to get to the courthouse.

After waiting to go through the metal detector, I had to wait in line while being checked into the jury assembly room and assigned a group number. There were several tables for people to work. I'd brought my netbook, Kindle, and a paper book with me, planning to write after going through the first draft of Dryads to Discover. But soon after the orientation video ended, my group number was called. We had to line up, put on special stickers, and proceed to a courtroom in another part of the building. Actually, we had to wait in the hallway outside for about an hour due to a delay. During this time, the first group of names of potential jurors was picked. When we finally filed into the courtroom, it was almost noon. The first group of jurors had to sit in the jury box while the judge read out some initial instructions. Then we got a lunch break, though it was a little difficult figuring out where the cafeteria was.

When we finally reconvened, the judge spent a couple of hours interviewing each potential juror. It was interesting listening to everyone's stories. In particular, I noticed very few people identified themselves as belonging to a group. I was surprised by how many people were dismissed after this round. The judge went through two more rounds of picking names and questioning people. I was called in the second group. I hoped I'd be considered too eccentric, but I wound up being chosen as an alternate juror. That meant I had to stay and listen to the trial itself, but unless a couple of the regular jurors didn't show up, I wouldn't take part in the delibrations.

To protect the defendant's privacy, I'm not going to list names or describe publicly what the case was about. It felt like the actual trial itself was shorter than the jury selection process. However, since it was late afternoon by the time jury selection was over, the trial extended to another day. Four people, including the defendant, testified. We were also show video recordings as official evidence. We got a fairly late start the next day, but despite breaking for lunch, closing arguments were done by mid-afternoon. When the rest of the jurors returned to the deliberation room, the other alternate and I waited for the judge in his chambers. There, we received a check and a certificate before being escorted out of the building. The first day went so late that I didn't get back home until close to 8:00 p.m., but the second day, I returned around 5:00 pm.

Other details worth noting: we were instructed not to discuss the trial with anyone until it was over. Once we were assigned to the jury, we had to report to the jury room, and we were escorted in and out of there. There were bathrooms attached, and we were provided food and drinks (but not tea). All the bathrooms in this old courthouse had only one stall, which was quite annoying when other people were waiting. Jurors were allowed to bring cell phones with them (everyone else had to surrender them when entering the courthouse), but they were locked up during the delibrations.

I was allowed to call back to find out what the jury result was. It turned out that they reached the same decision I had, though the group took three hours to decide. Part of me would have liked to have participated in the discussion; perhaps I could have helped the group come to a consensus more quickly. I did appreciate getting home sooner, though.

Has anyone else been a juror for a trial? If so, what did you think of the experience?


Maria Zannini said...

I like participating in juries but I hate all the waiting. You're right. The selection seems to take longer than the trial.

Most of mine seem to settle out of court. I was amused by one trial where the defendant chose to defend himself. He was nervous but willing. He too settled while we were at lunch.

emaginette said...

I appreciate the info. Thanks for sharing.

Anna from elements of emaginette

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

How many juries have you been part of, Maria?

You're welcome, Anna!

Maria Zannini said...

Oh, I've lost count. At least 8, I think.

DRC said...

I've not done Jury Duty before, but I do think it would be quite interesting to do so.

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