The Shadow of Jury Duty

This week starts another chunk of my life that must be tithed to jury duty.


I loathe serving jury duty. Having served on juries in the past, this isn’t just theoretical for me. I know I loathe serving jury duty. A majority of my antipathy comes from the time disruption. It seems no matter in what jurisdiction I’ve lived, the system is convolved to be as disruptive as possible.

“Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed;”

— U.S. Constitution;
Article III section 2

Back when I was in Maryland, you had to serve two weeks of mandatory attendance PLUS two weeks of on-call unless you were released early. During those first two weeks, you got voir dired like nobody’s business.

Now, in my NM county, it seems saner—but if anything it’s even more disruptive. You do the on-call thing for three weeks: every evening you call in to see if you are needed the next day. But here’s the kicker: if you aren’t selected for the morning session, you still have to call in the morning to see if you’ll be needed for the afternoon session. WTF? How the heck are you supposed to plan a day when you have no idea if you’re going to have to traipse to the courthouse? So it’s basically three weeks of penciling in assignments and plans while also having a substantial eraser at the ready to cope with the whims of the court.

Still, it could be *much* worse. People in other NM counties are on the hook for 3-6 months. Really. “They” say it’s a low-population thing, but it’s mostly a frakking with people’s lives thing.

So, the disruption is more than enough to want me to not want to be on jury duty. But there’s more: actually finding yourself on a jury. I find this particularly odious. To me, trials are excruciatingly dull. I don’t watch them on TV — no, not even the media-frenzy ones. I’m really not that interested. Given any opportunity, I’ll switch them off. I’d rather watch some not-in-court Kardashian banality, or have a root canal, than have to endure a court circus.

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed…”

— U.S. Constitution;
Amendment VI

Then there’s dealing with the jury itself. It’s no secret that I’m not exactly a social person. Most of my days are spent in silent, private areas working on whatever it is that I work on. This pleases me. Now I have to engage with people I don’t know in a setting I don’t enjoy debating matters I have little-to-no interest in. I find this stressful. I feel less “part of the process” than an amputated limb being ground up by the machinery.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the necessity of jury trials. The US constitution does guarantee this right in several places in the text. It does not, however, say that a citizen must be a party to one of these juries. Nor does it say the jury actually has to be anywhere near the courtroom.

If you search online, you’ll see a number of instances where the “civic duty” party line and the “think of the soldiers in [insert the current war] and their sacrifices” guilt trip are constant refrains on how your conscription is what’s holding together the fabric of this country. But you know what? Bull-cookies.

We shouldn’t be having this many trials in the first place. The legislatures, ever-ready to pass “tough on crime” laws in an effort to win votes, have effectively clogged the system which now requires “minding their own business” citizens to turn their lives upside down to tend to this mishigas. What do they care? It’s not likely they are going to be sitting on a jury anytime soon.

In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

— U.S. Constitution;
Amendment VII

And that’s another of my irks. That some people (some of whom are friends of mine) are too easily excused. They are able to talk about how proud they are about being part of the process when they are called, but then they never actually have to serve their time.

To be fair, though, a rare few do go through with it. I applaud them and shake my head in wonder that someone with a “get out of jury duty” card failed to play it. Madness.

As for me…I have no way out. When called, I must serve. Not so much out of a sense of duty but out of the knowledge that a bench warrant’s aftermath can end up being considerably more disturbing.

Yeah, when I was young, I went into my first day of jury duty with a tinge of pride that comes with being a cog in the grand machine. I don’t feel that so much any more. The machine has seen better days and is in need of a strip-down and rebuild. One little jury-duty drop of oil ain’t gonna make a bit of difference.

All I can really say is: if you hate jury duty, if you want more assurance of control over your life, don’t take up residence in NM…especially in the lower-populated counties. (I want to see that on a tourism bureau poster.)

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