Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Juror Duty Final Post: Juror #12

Grumbling follows. You can skip to the 14:50 section if you just want the story.

The Whole System

The afternoon is running on.

So why are we all here? 80-100 people stuffed into facilities much less spacious, functional,or even beautiful than Durham's new bus station. At this point, there's a good chance that all of us will be sent home. Durham isn't that big and we are in the center of the county at the judicial building. Everyone is within a half an hour drive. Most people are ten minutes away. We could be at home, acting as productive or at least comfortable citizens until we are called or texted.

So why? Because "they" can. Hearing of a day's wait to buy something at Lowes would send you to Home Depot. But there is no other "they." It can take a half day of waiting for a needy pregnant women to qualify for WIC benefits, a lot of which consists of presenting incredibly easy to forge documents (I'm not suggesting that WIC moms forge the documents, but the process does not prevent fraud and still takes a lot of time, so what's the use. It would be like changing the process at the airport to require a 4 hour wait so an attendant can verify a handwritten note from your mom that says you are a nice person who doesn't cause trouble on planes). But women who need WIC benefits don't have many other alternatives even if the government doesn't value their time. Call Medicare and wait on hold for 30 minutes and then you might be told even the supervisor could tell you she can't help with a simple problem. I was literally told "call your congressman" because they weren't authorized to write a simple letter.

I know there are variables like how many people will show up and how many cases will settle, but it seems that if someone really pushed, the system could be improved. If nothing else, maybe some of the sitting bored could be sent out to pick up trash or something. But in the end, our being ready quickly is more important than our time. At $12 a day, our time is not valued. That's what the econ guys call moral hazard - underpricing our time makes it easier for the court system to waste it.

This is what you write when you are stuck in an uncomfortable situation by the man and you don't feel like reading because you are tired. You have plenty of time to grumble and write it.

2:50 PM
At 14:50, while I was inwardly complaining about waiting, the call came. 20 or so last names were announced and we filed into a small courtroom. Experience convinced the clerk to spell names, even simple ones, because of the difficulty pronouncing the names of a random cross section of Durham. Near the end, my name was called, and I line end up to move to small court room around the corner.

Do I want to be picked or do I want to go home? The 6 hours of waiting was wasted either way, but I now desired a civic engagement. Remember the oath! Okay, I remember the idea of an oath! even if I have no idea what it was.

Some basic instructions were provided.

12 jurors were seated. Not me. After some basic questions including listing your encounters with the law (most people listed speeding tickets), 1 juror was dismissed because she was related to the defendant. The chances of that happening were unfortunately misapplied to this court case; otherwise with those chances she would have won the lottery. 1 more seated. Not me.

At this point, it became apparent that the public defense lawyer was outgunned. It was very natural for the assistant district attorney. He was Matlock. For her, it wasn't automatic. She struggled with questions and often hesitated. She was lawyer#5 on on episode of Law and Order. I respect public defenders and the hard job they have, but this was going to be difficult with less experience than the other side.

3 jurors were dismissed, and 3 more were seated. Not me. Except for the first lady, no reason was given. Just "jurors number 3,5, and 10 are dismissed."

Juror number 12 was dismissed. I was called. I clumsily gathered my stuff. I am juror #12. I have a name for what I do.

But a few questions and a nervous demeanor later, juror #12 was dismissed. However, the assistant district attorney was impressed about the speeding ticket in Spain.

So I missed out on a 2 day trial on an assault case.

As I gave the paperwork to the clerk, she assured us that it wasn't personal. But anytime you aren't picked, it's personal. From choosing kickball teams to a stranger who passes over your house to buy a different one, you have something invested in the decision.

Like my Dad says, you'd complain if you were hung with new rope. Better to have loitered 6 hours and lost, than to never have received a check for $12 in the mail in 2 to 4 weeks at all.

As I left the Judicial Building for my house, which does not require a metal detector to enter or have bathrooms that smelled like a back alley on a hot summer day, I started to get over the sting of rejection.

As it turns out, dismissal meant I was processed slightly earlier than the crowd who had never been picked. By the way, when you are at the Durham Judicial Building, just take the stairs. You'll see them full of people who know not to wait on the elevators.


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Anonymous said...

Oops... oh, it's late. Sorry, Daniel! I posted a few things and then changed my mind since it was a little too public a format (compared to Facebook). Will email you more about my last jury duty experience! Take care ... and best of success to the vital IGDP endeavor!! What would our community be without you?!? :-)

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