jury duty in the panaroma

on my mind

spring has sprung and here we are, one year later, still stuck in the panorama. every piece of technology and social media account has enjoyed forcing me to confront memories from where i was this time last year and how naive i was about what we were about to endure.

one of the things i definitely didn’t expect to do while still in the pandemic was go to jury duty. i had never served on a jury before but i always thought it would be a really cool experience and allow me to live out my “what if i had gone to law school?” dream. i have walked by that courthouse numerous times but never had a reason to go in. now it was finally happening!

everyone had to wear masks the entire time and sign a statement beforehand confirming we didn’t have any symptoms. we all had our temperatures checked when we entered the courthouse and had to sit six feet apart through out the entire process. i didn’t realize how much waiting time there would be but apparently everyone else did, because nearly everyone brought books to read! meanwhile i was on my phone looking like a social media addict and making a note to bring a book tomorrow, so i could too could be a cultured alexandrian performing my civic duty.

now i understand jury duty is an important part of the justice system and it’s a constitutional right to be tried in front of an impartial jury of your peers, but have you ever stopped to question how incredible it is that juries even exist? i didn’t think about it until the jury selection process was happening and a number of people were called out for further questioning and others were dismissed for knowing anyone in the trial, being related to anyone in law enforcement, or admitting to having any biases that could prevent them from being impartial in the case.

my favorite questions were: are you comfortable with judging people you don’t know? and are you capable of arguing and disagreeing with people you don’t know?

i was very curious to see if anyone would dismiss themselves for that. the rest of us judgmental people were apparently fine and willing to do the job. what i didn’t expect was that my case would not fall easily in line with my “i’m saving the little guy from corruption and oppression” scenario. instead my more complicated case involved the commonwealth of virginia (on behalf of a teenage girl) versus the girl’s father, with various charges including sexual abuse and obstruction of justice.

we ended up taking three days for the case. during that time, i felt like i was in the most important group project of my life, furiously taking notes on a legal pad that we had to leave behind at the end of each day, straining to hear the witnesses and lawyers’ muffled voices behind their masks and face shields, and wandering outside the courthouse during our lunch break reflecting on what we heard. we got paid $30 a day which was nice for treating myself to coffee, lunch and paying for parking, but doesn’t make up for the hours we lost from our work. we couldn’t talk to anyone about it, watch any shows or news related to the case or issues, or do any research. as a type A person who always wants to do extra research, fighting that impulse was incredibly hard. we weren’t experts but they wanted us to make the final decision? how could you not let me do my research??

in the end, we were left with just our notes, the evidence presented in court, a list of all the charges, some instructions and our common sense. we were twelve very different people in a room with flip charts (i volunteered to be the scribe) that had to come to a unanimous decision. nearly all of us were on the same page about some of the charges but not others. on the second night, two people were still on the fence, so we had to come back the next morning to continue deliberating until we all agreed.

now i like certainty. i crave it and build my life around it, despite understanding that you cannot ever be 100% certain. there is always room for doubt. but how do you measure what is reasonable and unreasonable? the court of course believes you can. this experience was a real test for me to push through all the “what ifs” and “why didn’t they present that as evidence?” or “i wish they had spent more time asking this to the witness!”

in college, i wanted to be a human rights lawyer until i learned how much politics really influenced everything and the corruption towards who is actually punished for violating the law and who gets away with it. i also know how often justice is not served even when you do your best and believe your case to be strong. i would like to say my cynicism/passion for justice made a difference in that case and that it meant something to be a young, black, female, daughter of immigrants in the room when the defendant was a black man and the prosecution was representing a young girl. as a jury, we were adults from different walks of life who had never met but worked together to make a decision about something that happened in our community in order to uphold justice and the rule of law. considering all that, it was a privilege to be a part of the process, however open to corruption it can be.

it’s been a few weeks now so i’ve had time to process and come to peace with the fact that we did our best with the evidence that was presented to us, knowing that our judgements of guilt were not based on some absolute truth, but only what could be proven to us in that moment beyond a reasonable doubt. i also have been thinking about all the other trials happening all over the country. the same week i was in jury duty was the same week jury selection began for the murder trial of derek chauvin began and i think about how much more pressure that jury feels with a case that everyone in the country is aware of and has some type of feeling towards. how could anyone in that jury truly be unbiased? is justice really possible?

on our last day, after they read out our verdict on each charge, the judge and lawyers thanked us all for taking the time out of our busy lives and said that our service was incredibly important. i sure hope it was.

what i’m noting

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