Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Reporting for duty

Have you ever served on a jury? I think everyone should. When you live in Manhattan, you get a summons every two years on the dot. Luckily, mine was for a criminal case (civil case = snore) and I didn't yet have any kids or big job responsibilities. This was back in the days when jury duty meant a lot more "sitting around in the courthouse reading magazines waiting for your name to be called" and a lot less "call this automated voice to see if we need you."

So I got put onto a case. The perp was an alleged drug dealer. A bike cop--why that detail sticks with me, I don't know--watched him holding fort inside a pizza place (or a pizzeria, as true New Yorkers always call them) over the course of several hours. The cop described customers entering, money changing hands, and each customer being apprehended, a few blocks away, with drugs in hand. The bike cop summoned a squad car and the dealer was arrested, given a quick pat-down, handcuffed, and put into the car for a ride to the station.

Once at the station, the car was thoroughly searched and a bag of drugs was found under the seat in the back. The question was, could we the jury be certain enough that the dealer had ditched his goods there to convict him? Or was it, as his lawyer argued, possible that they belonged to some other person who'd ridden in that car that day?

What struck me most, then and now, was how seriously we all took our job. We were a real cross-section of New Yorkers (well, we lacked some corporate titans and skinny socialites but we were at least of all ages, races, and education levels). It was a really straightforward case but we took our time discussing its merits and debating the guilt of the accused. The best part was when we considered whether the man could have sneaked his stash under the seat of the squad car while handcuffed. A tiny old lady volunteered that she had tested this out at home by putting on her own handcuffs and stuffing something under the cushion of her couch!

We voted to convict and I still remember how my heart pounded as I affirmed my vote aloud in the courtroom. I knew it was the right decision (the judge, in thanking us for our service, agreed as much) but it still felt scary to be in a position to send someone to jail. It took me a week to breathe normally again.


I posted at The Full Mommy about our holiday hits and misses -- click over to find out what we liked and didn't.


What are you reading tomorrow? I have too much to choose from: Sunday's New York Times, a pile of magazines, this month's book club assignment (Jane Austen's Persuasion), or my next PBN review title. It might depend on the weather. If it snows, as is predicted, I think Persuasion is the way to go. And if I read it with a cup of tea, I'm killing two birds with one stone.


hello insomnia said...

I was picked for jury duty but not selected out of the pool. I had to give up two days and the county overpaid me which at first was great, but then I had to pay a $5 processing fee to return the money. The check even read: Return to Maker, which really should have been Return to Taker because that's what they did: took my voting-ass for a ride.

Julie Pippert said...

I did my jury duty and even got on a jury. They marched us in the the court to intimidate the defendant, who seeing our apparently scary faces, quickly accepted the deal the DA offered.

At the time I was young and arrogant enough to think of Right and Wrong, and probably could have sent a person I found guilty to jail without compunction.

Now it would be harder.

But I haven't been selected since for an actual jury.

Interesting to hear your experience, especially how seriously everyone took it, and how you felt afterwards.

mothergoosemouse said...

Tiny old lady with her own pair of handcuffs - yeah, sounds like New York to me!

I got a summons once in Manhattan - two days before 9/11. Needless to say, I never reported and they never followed up.

Lady M said...

Fortunately, my last jury duty experience was checking the web twice a day to see if I needed to go in, which I didn't. SwingDaddy is doing the same thing this week.

Karianna said...

I was nearly selected for a jury, but then the guy broke down right before the trial, admitting he had done it!

Anonymous said...

I've been to Jury Duty 4 times. My 1st time :::shiver::: I wasn't even picked from the pool;
2nd time I got FEDERAL jd & was appointed foreperson(Don't get too impressed, we went alphabetically & I'm an "A")We found the guy quilty as there was videotape & fingerprint evidence, but seeing the feebs at work was thrilling!
3rd time made it voir dire, but since I used to work at the hiospital that was being sued, I was excused.
last time, I was a "stand-by" and the machine excused me the night before.

I actually LIKE Jury duty.

SUEB0B said...

I think jury duty is really an important civic responsibility, like voting. I am glad to see that your people took it seriously. And it is serious - taking away someone's liberty.

I like it, because it is usually a whole day of uninterrupted reading, which is like heaven for me.

Kelly said...

This is so relevant for me. Hubs just got selected for a civil trial. He's not too crazy on missing work, but he knows it's what he has to do.

mamatulip said...

I've never been picked for jury duty but I have always wanted to. Something about it just intrigues me.

Angela said...

I also served on a jury a few years ago, it was a very positive experience and it made me more confident in the judicial system in Canada.
Little old lady with her own handcuffs, too funny!