Peg worked for a global telecom company as a project manager traveling the US. She owned her own business and worked in a variety of fields.
Sitting in judgment of a fellow human can be a daunting experience. A jury's verdict can impact someone's life from that moment forward. One of the challenges and privileges of being a citizen is the responsibility of serving on a jury. Often, we're called to that task when it's least expected and sometimes when it's inconvenient.
In America we have the freedom to choose where we work, where we worship and where we live for the most part. We can speak unkindly of our leaders without retribution, most of the time. We can elect to vote or not to vote. And we can elect not to serve on a jury when called, but not without serious consequences.
It's happened again. A yellow postcard arrived in the mail with a summons for jury duty. It always sends a jolt down my spine and a vague sense of foreboding when I receive an official notice, somewhat like looking in the rear view mirror and seeing flashing blue lights.
What if it turns out to be a lengthy trial like the O.J. Simpson debacle that lasted eleven months? Could you imagine missing work for that long? Or having to travel everyday to the courthouse listening to hours of testimony?
Failure to Appear
When I received the summons to report for jury duty years ago, my reaction was predictable. I was aggravated about having to adjust my schedule and worried about falling behind at work in a fragile corporate environment ripe with layoffs. People offered advice on how to get out of serving.
Some suggested that I ignore the summons. Others said when questioned, to behave like a bigot to be dismissed from the panel. The department manager told me to ask to be rescheduled. Despite the discouragement of my coworkers, I was determined to show up at the appointed time.
No Need to Appear if You're Deceased
Exemptions from Jury Duty
- Students enrolled full time in high school or college
- Primary caregivers for an invalid who is unable to care for him/herself (This does not include health care workers.)
- Those serving on active military duty deployed outside of Collin County
- Officers or employees of the Senate, House of Representatives, or any department, commission, board office, or other agency in the Legislative branch of state government. (This does not include Law Enforcement Officers.)
- Someone who has appeared for a jury summons within the past thirty-six months
- A person who is seventy years or older who would like to claim a permanent exemption
When the day arrived I drove thirty-five miles in rush hour traffic to the courthouse where parking was practically non-existent. By 8:00 am I was in the designated jury call area surrounded by a room full of my peers. Most sat nervously awaiting whatever would happen next.
Moments later the bailiff arrived and stood behind a podium at the front of the room. He called for anyone who thought they had a valid reason not to serve to come forward. A number of people made a beeline to the front with their reasons for not wanting to serve. Those with excuses that met the limited criteria walked out of the room one by one until the rest of us had little hope for a reprieve as our numbers grew smaller.
Soon, my name was called along with fifty-four other prospective jurors. The judge told us to report to Courtroom Four where we entered single file into the cavernous, deathly quiet room. The Bailiff instructed us to call out a number in sequence as we took our chairs in a row.
Those with numbers less than thirteen stood a strong chance for selection in this trial where twelve jurors would be chosen. The defense attorney and prosecuting attorneys took their turns asking questions of the group while we had our first look at the defendant seated across from us. One woman, clearly trying to get out of serving, admitted to having prejudice that most would be ashamed of telling anyone in private. She wasn't chosen.
The prosecuting attorney asked each of us the same question which was, "If, after the presentation of evidence would you be able to come to a conclusion of guilt and sentence this person to serve time in jail?" I answered yes along with the others.
The Old Collin County Courthouse
As we sat nervously in the jury box, the defendant looked at each of us in turn. When her eyes met mine, I felt the heavy burden of the task ahead. She'd been accused as an accomplice to armed robbery. If she was found guilty, her life would never be the same again. The fate of this young woman rested in our hands and our hearts.
Despite my wishes and hopes that the panel would be filled before they got to me, I was selected to serve. I prayed that I could fulfill this role and that I would prove adequate to the task.
I prayed for the jury to be filled with reasonable and prudent people who would take this duty to heart. I wondered what would happen if I were in her place. Would a jury of my peers pay attention to the monotonous details of events long past?
Being Called as a Witness was Different
Years earlier, when I worked as a bank teller, I'd been called to court as a witness in a criminal case involving kidnapping and extortion.
One of my customers withdrew a large amount of money from her savings account. I was questioned about her demeanor during the transaction. She had appeared somewhat stressed and nervous while she stood at my teller window. I checked her balance, which at the time was printed out daily on green bar computer paper at the credenza behind the teller line. We were required to write down any transactions on the page next to the customer's balance. For withdrawals exceeding a certain limit, we needed a bank officer's signature to proceed. Thankfully, that day I'd followed the procedure.
Later that day, the woman claimed to have been coerced into withdrawing the money. She reported to the police that her husband had been kidnapped and held captive while she was forced to pull out the funds.
The Witness Wearing an Orange Jumpsuit
As the trial progressed witnesses were called to the stand to give their testimony. One was the ex-husband of the woman on trial. He was marched into the courtroom in an orange jumpsuit, handcuffed and wearing leg irons. He had already been convicted for his part in the same armed robbery.
During the trial, we were shown graphic photos of domestic abuse that the defendant suffered at his hands. She testified that he forced her to go along in the robbery of their neighbor at gunpoint, or else. Her plea of not guilty and her defense was based on Battered Wife Syndrome. When her ex-husband was questioned about abusing his wife he stated under oath, "Well, someone had to straighten her out."
The Prosecuting Attorney had a terrible cold. Throughout the trial he sniffled constantly which was a distraction difficult to tune out. It was a challenge to pay attention to his presentation rather than his frequent nose blowing.
The trial dragged on for a week, during which I caught myself dozing off at times especially after lunch. Sometimes, even the judge nodded off as well.
When we were finally charged with instructions by the judge and sent to the jury deliberation room, each of us questioned our ability to filter through all the lies in the testimony to sort out the believable and come to a reasonable conclusion based on the evidence.
The jury found her not guilty. I hope we were right.
Folsom Prison Blues - Johnny Cash
© 2010 Peg Cole
Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on May 16, 2016:
No, Robert. Nothing was asked of the panel about previous jury duty on other cases, that I can recall. One was a case of kidnapping and extortion rather than armed robbery. Thanks for coming by.
Robert Sacchi on May 15, 2016:
Yes, it is rough. Serving on a jury is one thing that doesn't allow for mistakes. I'm a bit surprised they picked you considering the case where you were a witness. Did either side question you about that case?
Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on August 05, 2014:
Hello Au fait, Not sure how I missed this detailed comment for so long. Sorry about that. Yes, waiting is the worst part. Well, maybe now, it's the part where they put the TV on daytime television for the room to watch the inane antics of the celebrities talking about fashion and recipes and the latest celeb mishaps. Who can read with that clatter on?
Thanks for sharing your experience in the court room.
C E Clark from North Texas on July 05, 2014:
Just thought I would let you know I spent 8 AM to 3:15 PM in voir dire with a couple of hours here and there for the attorneys to rest up. I wasn't picked. There were 52 of us for the one case and they only needed 12. It was a domestic violence case with some jail time included if found guilty.
So it was an issue of them sorting us out. They had already done background checks on all of us and pretty well made up their minds and just wanted to have a look at us and make sure we still seemed the way they decided we were from the background check. Defense attorneys don't leave much to chance.
There was no death penalty involved here so it wasn't an issue. It was instead an issue of whether we could all give the minimum sentence (2-years + a fine) if we delivered the guilty verdict.
I was glad to finally be sent home.
It is true however, that if we would want a jury trial available to ourselves in the unfortunate circumstance something criminal or civil should come to court proceedings, then we have to be prepared to avail ourselves to other people who want one. Something to think about.
Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on June 24, 2014:
Hello Au fait. Sorry about your vacation being cut short. I've served on a few juries and even testified on a kidnapping/extortion case when I worked at a bank. Yes, they must be sure you can vote to punish the crime in whatever manner the State allows. It is an awesome responsibility, when faced with judgement of another person. Quite sobering.
All the best to you on the upcoming trial.
C E Clark from North Texas on June 24, 2014:
As it happens, I must report for jury duty next week Monday morning. Last time I served, about 10 years ago, it was a minor traffic offense in the city court. This time the county has called. Have been looking forward to my summer vacation for months and hadn't expected it to be cut short by a jury call.
One can often be dismissed if s/he does not agree with the death penalty and would not be able to consider the death penalty if that were the listed, or one of the listed punishments, for a guilty verdict for that case. Last time I went through voire dire it was announced and in writing on the forms given us, that if we would not be able to vote for a death sentence then we would not be allowed to serve because we must be able to consider all possible punishments in the event of a guilty verdict.
Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on October 25, 2013:
Thank you Glenn. I had a Jury Summons just this past Monday and sat in the assembly room for about 3 hours. Thankfully, I wasn't chosen either. The system has changed quite a bit in the past few years. We had a big screen TV and had to watch a movie before selection began. It was a collection of movie clips from among To Kill A Mockingbird, My Cousin Vinnie and others along with some legal guests. Very interesting.
Nice of you to drop by today.
Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on October 25, 2013:
I've been called for jury duty a couple of times, but luckily I was dismissed because I manage a small company. If I were to be away too long in court, the company's welfare could be at risk. Not all court localities accept this for dismissal, however. I'm glad I live in an area were it does. You wrote an exceptional article Peg, and I found it very interesting.
Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on August 10, 2012:
Too bad you didn't get picked and have a chance to see the inside of the system. I served on a couple of juries and was even called as a witness once in an extortion and kidnapping case. It was quite exciting. I guess the process has evolved with all the messaging systems now in place, cell phones etc.. We were all just grouped in a central area where the judge eventually came in and called off names for those to go into the jury selection room. That was really eye opening listening to the prospective jurors and how they answered the pointed questions from the attorneys.
You know, I can barely believe that this has been out here for two years. Time really does fly when you're having fun!
UltimateMovieRankings from Virginia on August 10, 2012:
Over my life I have been called for jury duty 4 times....doing my civic duty I never tried to back out....during all 4 times....I never got to sit in as a jury member....heck I never even saw a lawyer....we just sat around the court area...until somebody would tell us we were done for the day.
My most recent time....we were required to call in every morning.....an automatic message would tell us if we needed to come in....all 5 days the message told me to stay at home. So my memories of 4 jury duties.....sitting around a hallway and calling an automated answering machine.
I enjoyed reading about your jury duty experience. Looking at some of your comments....I see that you wrote this hub over two years ago....can you believe that much time has gone by? Voted up and interesting.
Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on May 28, 2012:
Wow, Larry. It sounds like there's more than one problem with that parish. That isn't at all random or right. If you reported on a case you are the media, and jurors are usually excused for even reading news reports before a trial. Sounds a bit off for that reason alone. A jury of our peers. Really. We have a small town nearby that has its own system of justice, too.
Thanks for sharing your experience in the judicial system. It was eye opening.
Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on April 11, 2012:
Hello Dahoglund, Thanks for the response to this hub on jury duty. We are all part of the civic process and until we serve on a jury we can only speculate about what goes on behind those closed and guarded doors.
Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on April 11, 2012:
I think we should all serve on a jury at least once to get an understanding of how it works. I was called about a year ago but was not chosen. Actually I have been called for jury duty several times over the years but only served on one jury. It was a civil case.The lawyers were rather annoying. and we did not all agree but we got through it.
Mrs. J. B. from Southern California on February 09, 2011:
Some told you to "ingore the summons"? NO NO NO... The last thing you want is the state after you.
I was called to JD last year. What a tedious process. The waiting alone is a nightmare. I got there at 8:00 AM as instructed all to be told that I would be there until 5:00 PM.. Oh the screams that shot throughout my brain. Next I had to sit in a room that was packed with people. No open windows, no TV and no one to talk to. By one ( finally ) my number was called. We walked into the court room and this young boy of 16 turned around to look at all of us. My heart hit the floor. He was being charged with robbery and sexual aggravation. His eyes caught mine, ( I am sure he saw the look fo disbelief? Horror? Pain? ) in my eyes. When it came my turn to talk to the Judge, I stated that I could not do it. That one of my kids was just a bit older and I could not be a part of his conviction. The Judge being a woman must have sensed the Motherly part of me, understood and excused me... I am now off the hook for another year before I can be called again. Thank God. This was a great hub. I enjoyed it very much.
Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on December 15, 2010:
Hey there Gus - Thanks for stopping by to read and for the nice comment. Great to have your face here.
Gustave Kilthau from USA on December 15, 2010:
Peg - I am late to the table for this nice meal of an article, but it was well written and interesting. I enjoyed the visit.
Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on November 13, 2010:
Hi Wilderness - It's pretty scary once you get past the first eliminations and realize you might actually serve on the jury. Thanks for stopping by and for your comments.
Dan Harmon from Boise, Idaho on November 12, 2010:
Only once have I been called for jury, and I was glad I was not chosen. It is not a task I would like to undertake.
Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on August 27, 2010:
Welcome Ralwus! Nice to see you here. Yes, more recently I had to opt out of Jury Duty because of ongoing care of two elderly people. Can you imagine being on a jury for 6 months or so? Sorry to hear of your medical problems. Anyhow, thanks for dropping in and I'll leave a new fan mail for you. Hope it doesn't vanish as well. You're great!
ralwus on August 27, 2010:
Yeah, it's nothing like they portray it on TV or in the movies. I was chosen last spring, but then when the judge found out all of my medical problems and the fact that I had to pee quite often in the morning, he told me to leave just before the proceedings started. Back in '94 I was called to serve and was on heavy chemo treatments, they threatened to arrest me when I was a no show. God, I had one heck of a time with them. LOL I had sent them all the required documentation too. Kudos to you.
I received an email with your fan mail, it is gone. You have disappeared altogether. hehe thanks, I'm sure it's just a glitch, it was there, and when I went to approve it, it just vanished. Honest, I didn't touch it, thanks again, Charlie
Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on August 07, 2010:
I keep forgetting what a global environment we write in and how different things are from country to country. This medium really enables a closer smaller world! Wow.
Thanks pastella13 for your remarks about Jury Duty. It would be an interesting comparison to make on how the process varies from country to country. I agree with the subject matter having a direct bearing on whether I could serve impartially; I would have some limitations for sure when it came to animals. Thanks for reading and for the nice comments.
Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on July 30, 2010:
Thanks so much paradigmsearch. I'm fascinated by the American judicial system and criminal trials. Awesome to think about, a jury of our peers.
x on July 29, 2010:
A beautifully written article that eloquently described how I believe most of us feel.
Ethel Smith from Kingston-Upon-Hull on July 29, 2010:
Thanks for sharing this. I have always dreaded being called for jury service. The burden must feel heavy yet someone has to do it.
Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on July 18, 2010:
Hi Prasetio, Good to see you here again. Remember this is just one person's perspective on the system. Every trial is different - hopefully fair and impartial jurors are selected to serve. And thanks for the thumbs up. Cheers to you.
prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on July 18, 2010:
I learn much from this hub. It open my eyes about what's going on in United States. Good information from you. Thanks for share with us. Vote this Up.
Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on July 18, 2010:
Munirahmadmughal, hello. Thanks for your nice comment and thoughts on personal rights and justice. Protection of a person's rights is important, including the rights of the victims. Welcome to hubpages. Hope you enjoy it here.
Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on July 18, 2010:
Tonymac04 - I've seen lots of movies and TV shows where jury selection is portrayed. It never occurred to me how important the process could be until I was in the courtroom. Thanks for reading and taking time to comment. I would be interested in how the system works in South Africa. Do tell.
munirahmadmughal from Lahore, Pakistan. on July 18, 2010:
"Jury Duty, My Day in Court".
This is an excellent hub, informative and full of humanistic feeling for justice.
Main thing is protection of right. Sometimes a person has a hundred person right, some time less and some time totally not having any right. The Counsel is to do his duty honestly and with full knowledge and best manner. The decision is with the Judge for which he is responsible and answerable.
Tony McGregor from South Africa on July 17, 2010:
Thanks for the insight into how this all really works. I have seen the process in many movies. In South Africa the jury system was abandoned a long time ago.
Love and peace
Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on July 16, 2010:
Hi dabeaner - thanks for the comment and looks like you have your own experience with the system to tell. I'll look forward to reading about it.
Perhaps it was unusual that our jury was a mixture of business people, some with post high school educations, most with full time employment. The debate in the jury room was quite interesting but we managed to come to agreement in short fashion. Thankfully, no one was there for the per diem.
dabeaner from Nibiru on July 16, 2010:
Everyone should be aware of their rights and obligations as a juror.
Fully Informed Jury Association
For one thing -- jurors are the REAL judges. The petty tyrant in the black robe is supposed to just be a referee.
That is, jurors can judge both the law and the facts, contrary to the judge's instructions to just consider the facts of a case. Jurors do NOT have to follow instructions. If the law itself is a bad law, IN THE JURORS' OPINION, jurors can vote the defendant "not guilty" even though the defendant may have technically violated the bad law.
This is called "jury nullification." If you are called, and you want to serve, you must not mention that, and you must appear to be a typical ignorant, stupid sheep. Otherwise you will be booted off the pool. All parties to the courts do NOT want informed, intelligent jurors. They want easily manipulated sheep.
You will note that the system actually does the best to keep out intelligent, informed jurors. The per diem is a pittance, parking costs more than that. Many trials drag on and on. They treat you like the sheep they think you are. So what you usually get as jurors are those dependent on government -- government employees, retired, on welfare, etc.
Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on July 14, 2010:
As writers it does present an opportunity to experience a different slice of life. I've been summoned before and released when the court had filled their requirements. One time I served as a witness in a bank extortion case. That was interesting. Not your everyday fare.
Thanks for stopping by. I will gladly post your website on my profile if you like. It is awesome.
Cygnet Brown from Springfield, Missouri on July 14, 2010:
I've been on the list for jury duty twice but there was never a trial going on in my county during those times so I was never called in. What a lot of people consider a burden, we writers see as an opportunity. Thanks for the reminder of our responsibilities in a free and democratic state.
Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on July 13, 2010:
Immartin, thanks for stopping in. It truly is amazing and sad to see.
I served for a week at this trial before its conclusion. It was a sobering, heart-wrenching experience. I will never forget the statement made by her ex-husband who was brought into the courtroom in orange coveralls wearing handcuffs and leg chains. We were shown pictures of the abuse he'd inflicted on her in the past. In response, he said "Well, someone had to straighten her out." Her plea was based on battered wife syndrome.
lmmartin from Alberta and Florida on July 13, 2010:
And I'm sure you will (or did.) Amazing isn't it the number of people so quick to shirk their responsibilities of society, but always first in line for the benefits.