Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Jury Duty!

We showed up at 9 a.m. at the courthouse, half a courtroom full of varied individuals. The man sitting beside me, Sean, was an art director maybe in his late 30s.

In front of me were two black women who seemed to know each other. A lot of men in shirtsleeves, not a single tie. One 65ish woman in a tres svelte suit and a killer good haircut. A tired-looking blonde girl within days of having a baby. A very tall lanky young fellow with a Dutch name several rows ahead. (I know his name because he was one of the nine mildly stunned when their names were drawn, not for the trial of the day, but for a year-long appointment to the Grand Jury which meets once a month.)

At about 11 a.m. we were dismissed for three hours for the court to do preliminary business. I worked on my novel--minor changes on hard copy in pen--first at the hip, granola-ish General Store Cafe (caramel apple cake and decaf) and then when the Council on Aging started pouring in for their lunch meeting, at Hardee's (medium-sized sweet iced tea, if you must know; could have done worse.)

At 2 p.m., we all returned and filled the pews again. All of us on time, nobody skipping town. The judge Narley Cashwell, who'd done an impressive job of being clear in his explanations without being condescending, then dismissed us. The defendant, charged with assaulting a policeman, possession of drugs, etc., had decided at lunch to plead guilty. The jury pool erupted in applause at the news.

While it was an interesting little adventure in, for me, a different town than usual, none of us really longed to be there, it seemed. We were all taking time away from something else.

My point: we have a bold system of government that relies on people showing up, I do know there'd be trouble for anyone who didn't, but trouble is not always a deterrent. Our system really does rely on any and every person. I know it makes mistakes, but still... It made me kinda proud to see it again, genuinely democratic, in action.

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kenju said...

Too bad that guy didn't plead guilty before the 3 hour break!

Anonymous said...

lotta things get setteled @ the last ! minute b4 court--u must like adventures, & u got a lot done on yr work--2 for one bargain. aiki

K.B. said...

Your conclusion is one that many who have done their time on jury duty have come to. I'm a former legal secretary, among other things, and have a weird view of the legal system in our country. On the one hand, almost absurdly fair, on the other, where money talks.

On the whole, like democracy, it's the worst system of justice possible...except for all the other systems out there.

Peggy Payne said...

I had the same feeling about the guy taking his time, Kenju. The judge also said that when the defendant knows the jury is in the room, decisions become clear that were impossible before.

Thanks, Aiki. I always feel faintly triumphant when I get my stuff done in a different and distracting setting.

K.B., I'm with you on the mixed feelings about our system, and also agree that it's the best. I'm glad we now have DNA testing. I'm so amazed that these wrongly convicted people coming out of prison aren't raging full time.

Mojo said...

My son got a jury summons a couple of weeks ago, but since he actually lives out of town (he's a student at UNC-G) they cut him loose. Had they picked his name any other time in the last 5 semesters, it would've been even harder since he was in school 800 miles away!

Maybe the guy looked at the jury pool and decided he didn't have any "peers" in the mix and it was better to cut his losses.

Peggy Payne said...

Maybe so, Mojo.

Good thing there's some latitude for releasing people who're 800 miles away. I'd imagine that college age defendants might have a lot of trouble finding "peers.

I was let off from jury duty once because I had a long planned trip to Israel to write travel stories. And from a grand jury because I'm self-employed and it was going to involve a huge amount of time for a year. I appreciated that being okay with the jury pickers.