Jury Duty

About ten days ago, I received a summons to report for jury duty on August 31. The summons contained a number to call after 5 p.m. on the day before the trial to see if I was excused. In the case of a Monday court, I could call after 5 p.m. on Friday.

At 4:30 p.m. on Friday, August 28, the newspaper arrived. When I opened it to the front page, the side article headline read “Murder Trial to Begin Monday.” My first reaction was “No! I don’t want to be on a murder trial jury.” I looked at the clock. Twenty-nine minutes to go before I could call and find out if I would possibly be on the jury. I paced the floor. I thought of people to call but none were available. Finally, at 5:05 p.m. I called the number. There were several courtrooms mentioned. I thought mine was one for which I was excused, but I hadn’t read that part of the summons carefully. I called back to be sure.

While I was relieved at not having to serve on a jury, I would have done so without trying to be dismissed. In a section of the summons was this statement: “Jury Service is one of the highest duties of citizenship and one that no good citizen should shirk. Your willingness to serve as a juror indicates your faith in the principle of free government. You should not ask to be excused except for serious and compelling reasons.” I believe in the statement and know that my reasons for not wanting to serve were neither “serious” nor “compelling.”

I did serve on a jury once. It was a child molestation case. It was Christmastime when a mother took her two daughters, ages 3 and 5, to a man’s apartment to give him a plate of cookies as a gift. She left the girls with him while she ran back to her apartment to take another batch of cookies out of the oven. She had brought the children to the man’s apartment wearing only their panties. When the mother returned, she learned the man had given them money to buy her a present. Because they were wearing only panties, they tucked the bills into the waistbands. The girls were also making use of his bed as a trampoline when she returned. Feeling uncomfortable with the situation, she began questioning the children when she got them home. Finally, convinced that he had touched them inappropriately, she called the police.

The way the police interviewed the children was the cause of we, the jury, finding the man not guilty. They questioned the two children together with the mother present and able to give her opinions of what might have happened and influence her children’s answers. While it was possible the man had done something inappropriate, we weren’t certain “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the standard for a guilty verdict.

Once we delivered our verdict, the judge met with us in the jury room to thank us for our service. Perhaps he noticed our unhappiness with the verdict we had felt compelled to deliver. He revealed that this had been the second trial; the first resulted in a hung jury. It was some comfort to know that others had listened to the same evidence and come to the same conclusion we had–even when others had seen it a different way.

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