Thursday, September 1, 2011

Jury Duty

Last Monday, I visited the anscestral home of our prairie dogs. Yes, I went to the new Taos County Administrative and Judicial Complex to do my civic duty - Jury Duty.

In typical Taos fashion, it was a case of hurry up and wait. And wait. And wait.

In typical Beth fashion, I arrived five or ten minutes early. I hate being late for things. There was a small cluster of people waiting outside the still-locked doors of the courthouse building. The cluster grew as more people arrived. We were told to be there at 8:00 and it was about 8:15 or 8:20 before they finally let us in.

Of course we had to go to the security screening. I had taken forbidden items such as nail scissors and hair spray out of my purse before I left home. One guy wasn't thinking ahead, apparently. Not only did he have a lighter in his pocket, he also had a pocketknife! And he seemed surprised when the screener told him he couldn't take them into the courtroom, he would have to go put them in his car. This is the kind of doofus who will sit on a jury and decide someone's fate?

We trudged up the stairs and into the courtroom. Going to jury duty in previous years in the old courthouse was literally torture. The seats we had to sit in during hours of waiting and jury selection were the most uncomfortable seats I've ever been in. Hard plastic seats that curved in the back in the wrong place. And not just the wrong place for me; everyone I've talked to agreed they were uncomfortable. I finally learned to take some ibuprofen before going to jury duty, just to prevent some of the back pain.

The new courtroom has pews instead of individual seats, and even though they're just bare wood with no cushioning, they were comfortable.

This may have been the first jury duty in the new courtroom, judging by the trouble the clerks and bailiffs had getting the audio visual system to work. There are two flat screen TVs hanging up high to show the jury orientation video, but the clerks and bailiffs couldn't figure out how to get everything connected and working. It took them almost an hour, but they finally got it working so we could watch a ten-minute video explaining the history of jury trials and how the process works. The video also included testimonials from people who "learned a lot" by serving on a jury and who really enjoyed the experience.

More waiting.

At 9:15 the bailiff told us that they were waiting for the defendant to appear and we could take a ten-minute break.

Of course it was half an hour before the judge came into the courtroom, swore us all in as jurors, and then explained that the day's trial had been cancelled, but we didn't need to worry about why. "It happens all the time," she told us.

So we were released for the day, and in fact for the week. We have to call the jury line on Friday after 5:00 p.m. to find out if we need to come in next week.

At least my two-month term of service is half over. It started August 1, but there were no trials in August until the one on the 26th that ended up being cancelled.

We'll see what happens next week.


Barbara said...

Two months, wow! When I did it, it was two weeks (or maybe three). I guess it'll be longer in areas with small populations. On the other hand, it seems that you have a lot fewer trials.

After the first day, I had to phone in every day to find out whether to come in the next day. I think I had to go in only a couple of times, and I remember uncomfortable chairs too. Toward the end, I was chosen as an alternate for a trial, which then ran over past the two weeks, so of course I had to keep going until the trial was concluded. It was February, and I remember having to drive to town in sleet and ice. And flu season, so we lost one of the jurors to that, and I ended up on the jury. It was an interesting experience.

I wish so many people didn't try to get out of it. For one thing, if you ever find yourself on trial, do you only want jurors who couldn't figure out how to avoid service? For another, I think it's an experience every American should have at least once, to get an inside look at the workings of our justice system, with the good parts and the bad parts. I was definitely taken aback by some of the attitudes of my fellow jurors, but that was good too, to realize how differently people see things and what biases we probably all bring to the table. It's not a perfect system, but in spite of things that unsettled me, I think it's better than not having a peer jury system.

Beth said...

Yeah, I have to call in to find out whether to come in, so it's not a solid two months.

I served on a jury back in Fairfax County and I served as an alternate once here in Taos.

I agree that everyone should serve once, just for the experience. And I agree that people shouldn't try to get out of it. They're pretty strict here about letting people off; you can only be excused for "extreme mental, physical or financial hardship" and even then, you have to prove it.

I called the jury line last night to see about next week. The jury clerk was a little confused. She said we have to come in on Wednesday the 8th, and to call on the evening of Tuesday the 7th for further instructions. But Wednesday is the 7th! So I'll call Tuesday evening and see what she says.