21 June 2013

No. 1197


by R.T. Lawton

It came in the mail.

Writers generally look forward to the mail arriving. Not the bills and junk mail, but the contracts and checks a writer gets for creating work good enough to be put up in print. And sure, we get a little ambivalent, with both hopes and fears, upon receiving those first envelopes from an agent, or editor since they could be a positive or a negative. They could be a glorious validation of our creative genius (also called an acceptance) or the dreaded rejection (what do they know?).

This particular piece of mail I got last month could be called an acceptance of sorts, but not one I was looking for at the time. Can't say I was too surprised to get it though because it's happened twice before in the ten years since we moved here. But why now? After all, we had a trip planned with non-refundable airline tickets, and as everyone knows, airlines recently raised their prices for a customer to change the dates on their tickets.

Guess I could have asked for a postponement, but the letter said it would only take a day or two of my time. Okay, there was a four-day window before flight time, so I took a chance. If circumstances looked bad after I got there, then I could always request a postponement at that time and ask for a later date when my schedule seemed to be more open. In any case, I know they really don't want me. None of them have in the past, even though it has been my desire to participate.

You see, once again my name has come up and I have been summoned for jury duty. My juror number is 1197 and I am supposed to appear in county court at 8:30 AM on a specified day. A lot of instructions are listed in the letter, plus there is a questionnaire form I am supposed to fill out and bring with me. The first part of the form is all background on me. I've known me for a long time, so that part's easy. Next, I check the box for Post Grad and then the NO box for Previous Jury Service.

Now I come to all the little check boxes concerning other background about me, the part which has always gotten me bounced from a jury panel in the past. I check YES for Have You Ever Been Involved In A Court Proceeding Other Than Jury Service. This is quickly followed by checks in the box for The Case Was Civil, also one in the Criminal box, again for I Was A Party To The Case and for I Was A Witness To A Case. Seems my 25 years in law enforcement tends to mean one lawyer or the other in a pending trial has concerns about me sitting on their jury panel. But, according to the rules, no occupation is automatically excused from jury duty. Thus, I am required to go through the motions.

So, the night before, as instructed in the summons, I call the designated telephone number after 5:30 PM. The taped message says numbers 601 through 1,000 must report on the following morning for jury service. Numbers 1,001 through 1,250 are on standby, must be prepared to respond at an hour's notice and are required to call the designated telephone number again at Noon on the following day to see if they are needed then. Okay, looks like No. 1197 has got a second chance with the standbys. I sleep well that night. Comes Noon, the taped message now says the standby group does not need to report, our service obligation as jurors has been fulfilled.

Ah yes, rejected again.

Now, we all know people called for jury duty often make jokes about trying to get out of jury service, some of them serious about their trying or their success. I have even laughed about some of the ploys people used or claimed to have used to get off jury duty. In fact, I found one set of circumstances so bizarre that I used it in a short story ("Independence Day") about one of my Holiday Burglars who ended up on a jury panel for a fellow burglar. In short, it seems a real-life potential female juror raised her hand when the judge asked if there was any reason why any of  the potential jurors in front of him should not serve on a jury.

"Yes ma'am," inquired the judge upon seeing her hand.
"I'm not feeling well," was her reply.
"Not feeling well? What is the problem?"
"I think it's the medicine my doctor is giving me for my cocaine addiction."
"Ma'am, you are excused."

Okay, becoming a juror can be an inconvenience. And, okay, people can joke about different ways to get off jury duty. But, I am pretty sure those same people would quickly be screaming about THEIR RIGHTS if the peer jury system was somehow abolished. So, if a little of my time being spent as a juror is one of the requirements for me to live in a free society, then I'm willing to to have the inconvenience of being called. I know that if I were innocent of an accused crime, I would want some jurors who were fair-minded and interested in true justice, not someone who is aggravated about being summoned and is trying to get out of their duty.

Now on the other hand.......

7 comments:

Robert Lopresti said...

In college I was called to jury duty three times. I was out of state (at college, duh) so I was excused. Since then I have been called only once and that two week period they only needed a jury once and that was the day I had arranged to be excused.

There was a hilarious episode of 30 Rock in which a character explained that in her midwestern home state she always got excused by coming to court dressed as Princess Leia. When she tried it in New York City the reaction was: have a seat in the box, lady...

Terence Faherty said...

When I became a mystery writer, I thought one of the benefits would be that I would never have to serve on a jury. I couldn't imagine that a prosecutor would want a Jessica Fletcher wannabe coming up with alternative explanations for the crime. But I was wrong. The first time I tested the theory, I was seated on a jury in a criminal case. I found out then that all the jurors were Jessica Fletcher wannabes, but that's another story.

I did learn the secret of getting out of jury duty, which is to serve one time on a jury. I've gotten as far as the jury pool twice since then, been questioned about my prior experience, and dismissed. My theory is that if a former juror reports having acquitted, the prosecutor uses the hook. If the juror reports a conviction, the defense attorney does.

Janice Law said...

I'm petty sure that the reason I was rejected the only time I was called was for being a mystery writer,

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Janice, I'm with you. When they ask what I do and I say, "I'm a mystery writer and an online therapist," they can't get me out of the room fast enough. I suspect I'm really being dismissed for being a smartass, even though I'm telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Eve Fisher said...

I've never even been called for jury duty in any town I've lived in, not because of mystery writing but because I've either been a legal secretary or the judge's administrative assistant, or the Circuit Administrative Assistant. I know too many people, on all sides of the fence. I know for a fact my name comes up and they just toss it out.

Dale Andrews said...

As an attorney (and former Federal employee) I have been rejected from trial juries for decades. But about 10 years ago I was called for Grand Jury service. Turns out they LOVE government attorneys there. There are no defense attorneys in the grand jury process and the prosecutors were happy to have me. Sitting on the grand jury took two days a week for 18 months, believe it or not. I was really leery of the time commitment going in but it turned out to be a really great experience working with a group of people from all walks of life who would never have been thrown together but for that grand jury summons.

Leigh Lundin said...

Amen, RT.

In a jury call I attended, a potential juror found the key to a quick exit: He told the court he believed in jury nullification, i.e, ignoring the law to do what's right. They shooed him out before he could contaminate anyone else!

After the Casey Anthony trial, Floridians whined and complained the jury process was broken. I vehemently disagreed– The jury did exactly what it was supposed to and mustn't be blamed for prosecutorial overreach.