There's something deeply disturbing about jury duty. And I'm not saying that just because I had to be at Salem's downtown courthouse way earlier Monday morning than I'm used to functioning.
I'll get up at 6 am when I want or need to. But it ticks me off big time to get a government letter that says I'm required to do my supposedly "civic duty," and if I don't, a warrant may be issued for my arrest.
I don't understand why this isn't a bigger political issue. Just about everybody hates jury duty, yet Americans meekly put up with this affront to liberty, justice, and my ability to sleep late.
The Libertarian Party (of Michigan, at least) has called for an end to this enforced servitude. Great idea. If Ron Paul had made this a centerpiece of his presidential campaign, maybe I wouldn't have been such a strong Obama supporter:
The current practice of forced jury duty should be replaced by volunteer juries.
As I said the last time I was called for jury duty, in a sardonically titled "Well, that was fun" post, it's like going to the doctor for no good reason.
Getting there right on time and then waiting for three hours. Uncomfortable chairs. Having to fill out forms that ask personal questions. Outdated reading material. Other people being called while you sit… and sit… and sit. Why, I found that jury duty is just like going to the doctor. Except you go to the doctor because you have a problem that needs to be fixed.
With jury duty, the problem is that you are there and you want to be somewhere else. At least, this seemed to be the case with all of my fellow jury duty selectees this morning, and it certainly was with me. Notwithstanding the annoyingly cheery video that we were shown about the patriotic nature of jury duty, how our presence was assuring that the Republic Would Stand, blah, blah, blah, the mood in the jury assembly room for those three hours was seriously sullen.
Last Monday I also spent three wasted hours in that room. About 11:15 am a judge walked in and said, "The defendant has decided to plead guilty. You're excused."
Terrific! I thought.
I'd already decided that the guy was guilty, because if I ended up being picked as a juror, that seemed to be the fastest way to get the trial over: get a quick guilty verdict. I suppose a quick innocent verdict would work just as well, but I was so ticked off at the whole jury duty process, I wanted somebody to be punished.
This is why compulsory duty is so stupid. You've got irritated people, who don't want anything to do with a trial, being forced to render an important decision.
Midway through the morning we were given $1.50 coupons for the snack shop on the first floor and allowed to leave the jury room for twenty minutes. I'd studiously avoided talking with anyone else up to that point, being in a sullen mood. So I decided to say a few words to the guy next to me in line, to avoid looking like a complete jury duty hermit.
"About now is when I wish I'd committed a recent felony," I said, "or when asked about my hobbies on the form we filled out, put down tinkering with new formulations in my basement meth lab." (I assumed the guy hadn't read my blog post from four years ago where I used the same lines.)
He didn't even smile. "Jury duty is required by the Constitution," he said. "We're entitled to a jury of our peers. It's something we have to do."
I persevered. "Well, even though I'm entitled to a jury trial, that doesn't mean I should be forced to serve on a jury. I'd rather have some wise retired volunteers deciding my case who want to be in the courtroom, rather than a bunch of people whose only thought is I don't want to be here."
Permanent panels of judges manage to render verdicts competently. So why can't we have permanent juries made up of citizens selected for their intelligence, fairness, and willingness to listen to boring testimony for long hours?
Call me an elitist, but I'd just as soon not have a "jury of my peers" if that means having average Americans decide my case. Some of the people with me in the jury assembly room looked to have their wits about them, but not all.
Sherri, forgive me if somehow you happen to read this, but I've got to offer this advice: next time you're called for jury duty, make your personal cell phone calls either before or after.
I was halfway enjoying reading my book, having partially forgotten where I was, until you began having a series of conversations that weren't at all pressing. I really didn't think that Kaiser Permanente was going to assign you a doctor until you were officially enrolled, but it was sort of interesting to hear you try to talk your way into having them change their policy.
However, the lengthy discussion with your friend about baby names went way over the jury room edge for me. The miniscule amount of Buddha nature that I have prevented me from getting up and changing my seat, because I figured you'd recognize it was because of your loud cell phone conversations and I didn't want to hurt your feelings.
I wasn't worried, though, about insulting the security screener at the courthouse entrance. He told me that I couldn't take my Flip Video camera inside and would have to walk six blocks back to my car, then up three flights of stairs to the Marion Parkade roof where I was parked.
"Um, my cell phone also can take videos, and you're letting me have that," I told him. "You can't have a video camera in the courthouse," he replied robotically. "But just about every cell phone nowadays can take videos!" I repeated.
To no avail.
There's no reasoning with a clueless security screener. Or, sadly, with a justice system that considers mandatory jury duty to be a good thing.
Someday this will change, hopefully. For now I'm off the jury duty hook for two years. Maybe the Libertarians will come into power before my name is chosen again.