Welp, that was an exercise that was both instructive and a total waste of time.
I showed up at the courthouse at the appointed time, with about 40 other people. The jury assistant had us surrender everything — phones, tablets, books, papers, etc. –although one little old lady smuggled her phone in, which we discovered when it started ringing loudly in the middle of the proceedings. We were given little pamphlets about our duties and ushered in to watch a video about jury duties, although actually we spent a lot of time sitting waiting for it to be started (the clerk didn’t seem to know how to run a DVD player), and once it was done we spent an awfully long time staring at a blank TV screen waiting for them to move on to the next step, which was to be shuffled off to the actual court room, with the judge, the defendant and his attorney, and the prosecuting attorney were all waiting for us.
About 20 of us got seated for the jury. It was apparently random, and I was not picked. Then the questioning began, the voir dire. It was stuff like, “Do you know [reads long list of potential witnesses]?” It turns out most of the names were cops, and it begins to sound like an army was dispatched to arrest the lone defendant. This being a small town, several people knew all the named people, so they had to be grilled on how they knew them and whether their acquaintance with them would interfere with their ability to judge them. Then there was the question about knowing or being related to any of the other jurors, and hands went up all over the place. Same grilling. Interestingly, there was also a question about whether religious convictions would interfere, and there were three women who clearly belonged to the Brethren church (long skirts, long hair tied up in a bun — we call them “bun ladies” around here), who announced that they could not stand in judgement over a man, and they were dismissed.
As people were dismissed, new people were called up out of the pool and the questions were repeated. I saw the pool shrinking, but I was never called before they finally settled on the 12 jurors, fortunately.
I say “fortunately” because, while I was willing to serve, as information about the case dribbled out, it became clear to me that I couldn’t do it. It was a drug case, with a guy who’d been arrested for growing marijuana, and as I listened to the questions being asked, I realized how I’d have to answer. I could not in good conscience convict someone for an act thats criminality was arbitrary and unjust, and I wouldn’t be able to set aside my principles to abide purely by the letter of the law. If I had been called up, I would have been dismissed within moments for that.
Also, I wouldn’t even have had a chance to answer the prosecuting attorney’s question, “What three things come to mind when you think of law enforcement?” I would probably have started with “petty thugs who shouldn’t be trusted with a gun” before the bailiff would have hauled me out behind the chemical shed. He also asked jurors what they thought of the War on Drugs, and my answer might have gotten profane and earned me a contempt of court fine.
Well, they asked! They said we had to answer honestly, too.
So I got to go home early. I’m still on the hook to be called up to serve until sometime in January, though — I just hope it isn’t another marijuana case.