This week was a historic one for me, friends. After years of evading it due to being out of the country or in another state, it finally happened: I was summoned for jury duty, and I actually had to go.
It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as it could’ve been, and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to learn more about our justice system (the primary lesson being that it’s slower than an arthritic snail), but even so, the whole experience was still something of a…well, trial.
I was less than thrilled about being summoned for jury duty for three big reasons: (1) I’m self-employed, and as such, I don’t receive any money at all for days I’m not working, (2) I’m poor, and not working for a day or two is a pretty big deal, and (3) the courthouse I was summoned to was deep in the south side of Chicago, which in addition to requiring me to travel through some somewhat dodgy areas, would require 3-4 hours of travel time for me to get there and back using public transportation.
But left with no other choice, I dragged myself out of bed at 5:00 in the morning on Tuesday (after being up half the night with a migraine, because of course) and crammed myself onto a crowded bus heading south.
An hour and a half later, I finally reached the courthouse (comfortingly located adjacent to a maximum security prison). I was pretty exhausted by that time but doing my best to look on the bright side: Even if I had to spend most of the day stuck in a room with a hundred or so other bored people, at least I could spend that time actually getting some writing done.
And when I arrived at the jury room (and suffered through a rather awkward introductory speech and video), it was actually pretty comfortable. Nice big room, comfy chairs, a coffee machine, etc. I settled in with my decaf latte (because my sensitivity to caffeine is such that even decaf coffee will jolt me back to wakefulness) and got to work on Chosen: Book II.
This might not be so bad! I thought, momentarily forgetting how much the Universe enjoys irony. I can get some writing done and have a nice, leisurely day of coffee-drinking and snack-eating! Hooray!
And, approximately five minutes later, my group was called to proceed immediately to a courtroom.
My fellow group-members and I proceeded glumly to the door, where we were instructed to form a line and then traverse the length of the building to a startlingly cold courtroom. Just as frostbite was starting to set in, we were each brought from the outer courtroom area into the (somehow even colder) inner area to be questioned at length by the judge.
We were asked a series of questions about our history with the law, our acquaintance with police officers or lawyers, and whether we could offer fair and impartial judgment.
Once this was over, the judge and lawyers conferred and made their picks of the jury members – and, naturally, I was selected to be part of the jury, because that’s just how my luck was going that day.
I was ushered into the jury room, which was about the size of a walk-in closet but, fortunately, included a bathroom. After a lengthy wait, we were taken back out into the courtroom to begin the trial.
I was positioned directly under the air conditioning vent, and the temperature there was quite literally 40-45 degrees Fahrenheit, which is a balmy day for Chicago in winter but pretty terrible for a courthouse in June. We started the trial around three PM and finished for the day at seven, and by that time, my teeth were chattering, I was shivering violently, and the only way I was avoiding hypothermia was by shoving my arms deep into my sweatshirt and hugging my bookbag for warmth.
The trial itself was pretty interesting, but since the defendant (who wasn’t actually present) was facing 22 counts of drug-related charges, the presentation of evidence was a rather lengthy process. The prosecution presented over sixty items of evidence, most of which were photographs, and in each case, there was a lengthy process of showing the photographs to the defense, asking permission from the judge, having the witness describe the photographs, then asking permission to publish them to the court, then putting them up on the screen, then having the witness describe them again.
Much of this description was something along the lines of, “This is a picture of the defendant getting out of his car. This is a picture of the defendant starting to close the door of his car. This is a picture of the defendant closing the door of his car. This is a picture of the defendant starting to turn towards the back of his car. This is a picture of the defendant moving towards the back of his car.” Etc.
We were finally dismissed around seven o’clock (two and a half hours later than we’d been told we would be released), and I started the long journey home, after which I ate a quick dinner and fell immediately into bed.
The next day, we all reported to the jury room at 10 AM (an hour later than we’d originally been scheduled, thank goodness) and were given some less than fresh coffee and some rather mushy packaged donuts. The trial ran longer than expected, and we were never offered any lunch or given the opportunity to go to lunch, so most of the jury members were ready to start nibbling on their pencils by the time four o’clock rolled around and it was finally time for us to go reach verdict. Or, actually, 22 verdicts.
Just as we were about to be dismissed to the jury room, the judge called out my name and the name of one other gentleman and directed us to go sit on a bench near the front of the courtroom. Puzzled, we did so, and once the rest of the jury had left the room, we were told that we were actually the two alternates, meaning we would not take part in deciding the verdict and were now free to go.
I had mixed feelings about this, to be honest. Being handed a check for $50 and being told I could go home was great, but I also felt weirdly cheated. The trial had been long and monotonous and even physically difficult, but I’d been getting myself through it with the thought that by the end of it, I would’ve actually participated in doling out some form of justice. But instead, I was essentially told, “LOL nevermind” and sent off with nothing to show for two solid days of shivering and paying close attention to all the evidence and testimony.
It was kind of like being shown a (very long) movie and then having it switched off five minutes before the Thrilling Conclusion. I don’t even know what verdict was reached, and I’m left with this unsettled, incomplete feeling regarding the whole experience.
Whatever the case, I guess my first jury duty experience was positive overall – I met some great people on the jury (though I didn’t actually get the chance to say goodbye to them for the aforementioned reasons), learned a lot about how things work in a non-Hollywood-version courtroom, and discovered that I possess more endurance and patience than I’d previously thought.
I also leave my jury duty experience with one further gift: This morning, I woke up feeling absolutely dreadful, so it seems that two days spent in a freezing cold courtroom were not without consequences.
But hey, these things happen (when you trap people in the temperature equivalent of a meat locker for two solid days with no sustenance except bad coffee and mushy, heavily-processed donuts).
Disclaimer: Obviously, other people have had far, far worse experiences serving on a jury, so I’m not in any way putting this forth as The Worst Jury Experience Ever. It was probably pretty mild in the grand scheme of things, and while it was somewhat tedious, at least it only went on for two days and was a fairly straightforward case. Should the Universe wish to attempt to top itself for my next jury experience, I’m sure it will easily be able to do so.
And now to suffer through my infirmity like a true adult: curled up in bed watching episodes of Muppet Babies on YouTube.
Until next time~~