I must preface this post with the the fact that I am not happy with being called to jury duty, every three years since moving to Lawrence County in 1997. I know people who have never been called for jury duty and they have lived here all of their lives. My wife never had jury duty until we were married 5 1/2 years ago, she has had it twice since then. I teach social studies and thought I was fairly well versed in Civics, but I am being reminded that book knowledge and practical knowledge are not equal.
I was summoned again to serve on a jury about a month or so ago. When I received the summons, I called and talked with the county officials in charge of jury duty. I asked why I was being called every three years and others never get called. The answer from the older gentleman on the other end of the line was, “Names are picked randomly.” I explained my situation and was told, “If you aren’t actually picked for a jury, you could be called more often.” So much for my argument. In my defense, if random is every three years at this time, I should have hit the Powerball Lottery a couple of times by now.
So I filled out the questionnaire and returned it to the county. I was truthful, the threat of perjury for lying on the form has a tendency to do that to people. The two big questions that will usually disqualify me are, “Are you related to any law enforcement officials?” and “Were you are any family members ever the victim of a crime?” The answer to both is yes. I have several family members in various jobs within law enforcement, I have many friends in law enforcement, and my grandparents were almost killed by a driver who was impaired by some substance. There was another question asking to describe my answers, I filled up the space and used part of another section to be thorough.
I lucked out days 1 and 2, not having to go to the courthouse. Last night, in the middle of the snow storm, I called the courthouse and the recorded message said I had to report. I called back twice to make sure I typed my juror ID number in correctly, but the answer was always the same. Soon after I received the call from the school that we were closed. Yay.
I got up, dug out my truck and hoped for court to be canceled. No such luck. I dug out again, and forty-five minutes later I completed the normally fifteen minute drive. The courthouse employees were all very friendly, they even had donuts for us. We waited around and finally I was called for a criminal trial. The judge had us all sit in the court room and reviewed the details of a criminal case.On the way in, one of the court officers thanked us for showing up. Not to be a funny, or sarcastic, I mentioned that there was no need for thanks, “we didn’t have a choice, but to show up. Opting out is called contempt.” Another prospective juror chimed in, “If I don’t show up today, you’ll have me here in cuffs next week.” The court officer laughed and said we were still appreciated.
In the court room, we were asked if we were related or on friendly terms with any of the people in the court. Then they read the witness list and ask the same question. Then they started asking the questions from the questionnaire we had to fill out and send back. We were to stand if our answer to the question was “Yes.” Once again, I stood for the two questions I answered yes to on the questionnaire.We broke for lunch, the court house ordered pizza for everyone since it was still snowing outside.
After lunch, we returned to the court room and one by one, prospective jurors were called to the side barand asked the details to why we stood up during previous questioning. I had gotten this far three years ago and once again I was called up to the side bar. I was asked about the details of why I stood up. It was a lengthy answer. After each answer I was asked if I could still be impartial. I think I could be, but who knows for certain and I said as much. During the questioning I discovered that the Assistant District Attorney on this case and my wife are distantly related through marriage. The Assistant D.A.’s aunt is married to my wife’s uncle, who was a police officer. Needless to say, I was not picked to be on the jury for this criminal trial.
We were sent back to the jury holding room and were told that we had to report the next day at 9:15 AM. They still had one criminal case that possibly needed jurors. I asked why I needed to show up, I was just disqualified from a criminal case. I was told, that they needed prospective jurors so it didn’t matter that I would probably be dismissed. The message was simple, we need people and you have to show up.
Nice…the only way I make a criminal jury is if the defense attorney is totally incompetent, or they want a shot at a mistrial. I made the fifteen minute trip home in about thirty minutes, the roads were getting clearer. Once again, I received a call, school was canceled. Tomorrow I head back to court, to be someone they can send home after wasting a day sitting around doing nothing.
In Lawrence County, Pennsylvania we receive a whopping nine dollars a day for showing to the mandatory jury duty. I guess I just resent the fact that they try and make it sound that we are picked randomly. There were several people in the court who are picked every couple of years, so it is not just me who thinks the randomness is skewered. I also disliked the fact that I have to go back again, for another criminal trial tomorrow, when I was not picked for a jury today. My family situation isn’t going to change overnight, they know it, they just need bodies in a room, even if it is just to take up space. Whoever the defendant is, they will have a pool of rejected jurors to choose from, how fair is that?
I do owe one lady an apology. On my way out to my truck, in the snow and wind, one of the court employees asked if I was in the jury room and knew I had to report back the next day. I said, “yes,” and I guess she could tell I was not happy about it at all. She tried to apologize for the inconvenience, but I brushed her off. I should not have done that, she may have been sincere.
I am just tired of the insincerity, “we randomly pick jurors,” “we need impartial jurors,” “we are sorry for your inconvenience.” If I am to take them at their word, I am sure they could sell me some oceanfront property in Nebraska. No wonder people hate being summoned.