Sometimes Getting Out of Jury Duty Is Better for the Jury

wisdomIt’s not often that you find yourself standing in front of nearly 100 people and a judge is staring you in the face, asking if you can be unbiased.

I began to stutter.

I think I said something like, “Uh. Yeah. I mean, I guess I can,” before collapsing into the pew beside another woman who’d been called out of her job as a potential juror.

I guess you could say I’d volunteered myself for this, but I had no choice. When the judge read off the list of potential witnesses in the case and asked if any of us knew them, I raised my hand. As a matter of fact, I did know one of those witnesses. We’re related … by blood.

I had to be honest. It’s only fair to the defendant.

But when you’re looking a judge in the face, and he’s asking if you can be unbiased, there’s a lot that goes through your mind. Can I be? Really? And if I say I’m not, do I just sound like one of those people so desperate to get out of jury duty they’ll say anything? Shouldn’t I be sucking it up for the sake of civic duty?

I didn’t want jury duty. Most people, if they’re honest, don’t.

It was a hectic week at work, and I knew I’d have to work a lot of evenings to make up for the time I’d missed. Still, I was there and I knew I was lucky. My employer would be paying my salary if I were impaneled, while others in the room were self-employed and had no such back-up. I knew (and know) that jury duty is part of our “job” as citizens. If one shirks the work, the burden falls on another. And as the judge reminded us all, it’s a small county. The chances are pretty high that there is at least some tangential relationship between jurors and someone in a court case, so it’s impossible to give everyone an “out” based on familiarity.

I didn’t want to be “that” girl. So I promised to be a good citizen and sat down.

But as the people beside me, in front of me, behind me heard their numbers called and were placed into the jury box, my mind was racing. Was I being honest? Could I really claim impartiality when one of the witnesses at hand is someone I’ve known since birth, who I remember soundly beating at a game of Trouble in my childhood dining room? Would I really be able to set aside my faith in his word and carefully examine what it was he was saying?

The whole truth and nothing but the truth? No. I couldn’t and I wouldn’t. We’re not the kind of cousins who call each other up every day and hang out every weekend, but we’re still family and that carries with it an amount of history and trust that I don’t trust myself to set aside.

Sitting in that pew I made a decision. If I were pulled from the pews and into the jury box, I’d have to risk sounding like a bad citizen for the sake of my conscience. Whether the defendant committed the crime or not, our justice system was designed to give him someone better than me making the call.

In the end my number wasn’t called into the jury box. I didn’t have to lay bare my inability to be unbiased. I never had to be “that” girl.

And yet, I’m not ashamed to say I would have been.

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