Jury Duty

missoula_county_courthouseMissoula Courthouse

I was summoned for jury duty in district court yesterday. I wasn’t looking forward to going, wondering if I might be able to get out of it by promptly shouting “Guilty!!” upon entering the courtroom, before anything was even underway yet, thereby calling into question my ability to be impartial, not to mention my sanity. Having no idea of what the day would have in store, but anticipating a lot of waiting around time, I packed light, bringing with me only a pen and small notebook. Over my four-hour stint in the newly renovated courtroom #3 I then proceeded, to my delight, to fill pages upon pages of it with my observations, factual information, musings and wandering of the mind.

A writer revels in new locations like a builder scouting for virgin land. With a pen and paper in tow, even mundane surroundings come alive – my attention held in the details, goings-on, faces and mannerisms around me.

What color is this carpeting? Warm burgundy? Dark salmon? Red brown brick meets sunset? Crimson? Wine? Crimson wine? Autumn leaf? What sort of creative but poorly understood name would it boast on a paint swatch? Jovial Friend Time? Lollipop Station? Squirrel Picnic? Luscious Horse Field?

I love the art and function of writing. To attempt the capturing of moments into unobstructed words. Being a writer supports my mindfulness practice, too. It affords me the ability to tune into certain things I might not otherwise take notice of. And, in the case of jury duty yesterday, having a love of writing allows me to turn an unwanted situation into an experience of captivation and interest.

Displayed at the head of the courtroom lies a mural of three lovely Romanesque ladies of justice, in pleasing earthen tones. The blue-skirted one on the left holds a dove, the middle pink-skirted one holds two rock-like round balls, one in each hand, and the arbor green-skirted one on the right is blindfolded, holding a scale. Above them, from left to right, reads: Freedom, Equality, Justice.

Pillars flank the courtroom topped in golden flourishes, pearl-globe chandeliers hang from the ceiling. A flag is nowhere in sight. Ornate crown molding surrounds the room. A grandfather clock hangs on the wall, keeping inaccurately slow time with its overtly bulky brass pendulum.

Connected wooden seats, with a place to put your cowboy hat underneath, fill with equally summoned citizens called to perform their civic duty – an inordinate amount of us, if you ask me: around 80! 80 relative strangers, who share our residence in Missoula county and a fondness for mountains, sitting elbow to elbow in a packed courtroom. They only need to select 12 of us, with one extra as an alternate, for the trial that will start after lunch, regarding 110 counts given to a woman alleged to have broken a restraining order by way of text messages (110 of them to be exact). A woman, I might add, who’s present in the room for this process of jury selection. Does she get a say in who is chosen? It seems odd that she would be involved in this.

They must be expecting the need to weed out a bunch of us with their procedure of questioning. Questions like: Does anyone have cataracts or glaucoma, rendering it difficult to see clearly? Does anyone have a family member who’s in law enforcement? Did anyone receive the jury summons and think of not showing up? Does anyone know anyone else here in the jury pool? Does anyone have an issue with text messaging (morally speaking or for other reasons)? Does everyone understand what ‘reasonable doubt’ means? Is there anything going on for you in your life that will hamper your ability to focus on the trial?


The question, asked by the defense attorney of the 27 jury members called up to bat, that I found to be most intriguing and thought-provoking was: Would you hold a police officer’s testimony in higher regard than the defendant’s? For reference, we were told that a police officer would be testifying for the state’s case against his client in the trial. The questions posed were asked first by the judge and then by each of the two attorneys. Some questions were asked broadly to the whole 27-member jury and others were asked individually, calling on people at random. One man was called on to answer this particular question. In what I found to be a reasonable, understandable sort of manner, he faltered over his response and honestly stated that he would hold a police officer’s statement above that of the defendant’s. He was then promptly excused and exited the courtroom. The attorney then asked everyone else if they too felt the same way. When no one else spoke up I thought of the lead character’s motto in the TV show House M.D: Everyone lies. As I wasn’t one of the chosen 27 being directly questioned, I had time to consider what my answer might be, had I been the one called on to answer. I quickly realized that I shared in the same sentiment of the recently excused juror. I thought to myself, Yes, of course I would deem a police officer’s statement more truthful than that of the person on trial. I mean, what motive would the officer have to lie?

It was interesting to follow this train of thought. The court, or that one lawyer anyway, was obviously not interested in having anyone on the jury who was partial to trusting cops above civilians, but who wouldn’t? Wouldn’t the majority of folks feel the same way? Barring a personal grave miscarriage of justice with a police officer, wouldn’t most people put their trust in those sworn to uphold the law and protect us at the expense of their own lives? That one guy and I can’t be the only ones who feel this way. It seems to me that f we didn’t hold certain people’s position of influence above our own, none of us would’ve shown up for jury duty in the first place.

Of course, context is everything. For instance, I wouldn’t just grant carte blanche to an officer, if I was confronted with appropriate evidence pointing to their corruption. But just as I put more stock in what a clergy member has to say, I have an accrued trust in law enforcement. I judge that they have a hard enough time in their line of work without adding the burden of angst and malcontent from privileged white people negatively skewing all cops on the basis of a few cracked eggs. If I didn’t view a police officer’s sworn testimony at least somewhat higher than the defendant’s, why put them on the stand at all? And where would you draw the line? Would that lawyer want to regard expert testimony on the same basis as well? Well, sure that guy’s a highly regarded doctor or an expert in criminal behavior but their viewpoint is no better than my client who allegedly killed a store clerk, right? 

Oh to follow my parade of thoughts generated from a seemingly simple uttering of words.

Other jottings I took yesterday:

There is a dichotomy between wanting to be chosen as a jury member slated for trial and wanting to get the heck out of courtroom #3 as soon as possible, as though being selected somehow provides merit and affirms our worth regarding whether or not we were voted off the island.

Women have purses, men have coats and jean pockets. We all have something in common, though. Shoes. A Pandora ad comes to mind, a friendly, upbeat lady asking: Hey music lovers! Do you love shoes too?! At first, my response to the ad was, “No,” understanding her question to the referencing of shoes as a fashion statement, as someone who enjoys stockpiling the latest trends of foot friends in their closet, as far as the eye can see. But then I looked into her question more deeply, and the next time she asked it, while interrupting my stream of music, I answered, “Yes! Yes! I DO love shoes! Not the way you mean it, of course, but yes! Shoes are amazing! What would I ever do without them?!”

The decision has been made. 12 jury members and an alternate have been chosen. When they are sworn in, the rest of us will be free to go: my stepson’s stepdad, the good looking guy seated across the aisle from me, the gaggle of ladies nearby who chatter loudly and offer their judicial-hen-house review at every possible interlude, the dude who strangely thought he was chosen and sat in the jury box despite not having been a part of the 27 up front at any point (requiring the chosen juror names to be read out loud for a second time), me. Disappointment. Relief.

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