Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Jury Is Out

I was driving my Usual Route on a Usual Day, but I knew, without a shade of doubt, that it was The Day. My number was up. The Gig was over. I’d be Rounded Up. Called In. Flagged Down. I didn’t know exactly when, or how, but Dread settled upon me as I awaited my fate.

Although the incidents I am about to describe have actually nothing to do with yesterday’s post, or blogging, for that matter, as an aside, I find it necessary to confess to a moment of horror immediately after I went live with a narrative in which I made fun of the Department of Homeland Security. I spent a couple jittery hours, wondering if the FBI would knock on my door. Two men, in suits in fedoras. One nodding gravely as the other said, “OK, Funny Girl, grab those mug shots of yours and out to the Paddy Wagon with you.” Really, I could see it all going down.

Although Legal Affairs were, indeed, on my mind as I drove home that January afternoon, the Summons for which I was bracing was of the ilk most Regular Citizens encounter from time to time: a seemingly routine Jury Duty.

As I strive, like any good journalist, to keep my use of adverbs to a minimum, I use the word “seemingly” with purpose. You see, it seems I have been a Person of Interest to the Virginia Court System since 2006, beginning with a routine questionnaire determining my eligibly to serve during a specific period of time.

The questionnaire listed some specific automatic exemptions, one of which being the main caregiver for a child under 16. As I was homeschooling my 7th grade son at the time, I checked that box and hoped that was the end of it. The specified period came and went. I forgot about the whole thing.

Until a sheriff showed up at my door with a summons about a year after the questionnaire time period had passed. I called to find out why I was being summoned, and to see if I couldn’t just be removed from whatever list I was on that had caused all this, because, remember, I was exempt. Except now I was no longer homeschooling, but a full time Masters Degree candidate, which, I might add was also qualified as an exemptible circumstance.

The Lady on the Phone explained that I had “lucked out” and it would be “in my best interest” to get it over with” because I had been selected to serve on some sort of panel that just meets for one morning—home for lunch even!—and then you get a certificate that says you’re off the hook for “at least” two years. I felt relived, in a temporary sense, even though I had a vague sort of disquiet about the lack of explanation about how I got roped into all this in the first place. I made arrangements to miss class, which really killed me because I was new and still trying to build a reputation as an overachiever. But, in all, it seemed a fairly painless way to participate in a civic responsibility, and why fight it?

I did my morning duty where I basically sat with a group of bored individuals and did a lot of murmuring and nodding, assuring a string of policemen that they had done a good enough job collecting evidence so as to proceed forward with their cases. I went home for lunch, filed my certificate, enjoyed a sense of pro-social responsibility and hoped that was the end of it. I forgot about the whole thing.

Until I was in the middle of my capstone field experience for my Masters Program and got a questionnaire determining my eligibility to serve on a different court. I pulled out my certificate, checked the box that said I was exempt because I had recently served, and hoped that was the end of it. I forgot about the whole thing.

Until a questionnaire arrives in my mailbox, virtually to the day of when my “You’re Off the Hook” certificate expired. The Outfit peddling this questionnaire offered very limited options for exemption. The literature indicated that I would be in a pool of people who could be called at any given time for a period of two--count ‘em—two years, and also that it would be for one of two types of service: an “on call” kind for a two week period, or The Grand Puma of all Juries, a stalwart group that meets for three consecutive days a months for a year (with an included footnote that it could be 18 months depending on the county in which you reside.)

Considering my mounting history, I was horrified by this communiqué. The dread, walking around every day, just waiting for a sheriff to pull you out of your real life and into what could be anything from an annoying two weeks to tantamount community arrest, unable to go far or long, chained to the court docket for a year.

Living with the cloud of uncertainty for up to two years seemed unbearable, but that afternoon in mid-January, I knew I would hear from them before the sun went down that day. See, I’d gotten the questionnaire in December, and after a respectable period went by in observance of the holidays, I knew they would send for me. Why? Simply, greed. These folks want me. They want me bad. They want me often, as soon as they can get me. Sure, I’ll get my “Off the Hook” certificate, but guess what, it will expire just as they are finished with the people they have in their clutches for this two year round, making me more immediately available to them again.

As you can tell, I have lost all belief in the supposed “random selection” of juries. There is no hope that I will regain that innocence. I do believe that I am in some sort of loop, and I will be summoned to more and more courts of varying formats. Although I was relieved to be selected for the Annoying Two Weeks type of duty this time--I start on Monday--just knowing that Other Kind looms out there is Concerning Knowledge.
And that January afternoon? I came home to a Summons in my mailbox (no sheriff this time.)

If I am to be honest, I must admit that I am considering filling out some paperwork to be removed from the voter rosters, at least for a time—until things, you know, simmer down. In the spirit of lively debate, I would like to know what my readers think. Would that be a huge faux pas, like a dis on America? Especially considering that most people I know have never served? For those of you who are spiritually minded, what are your thoughts? Is it a religious responsibility to remain on the voting rosters, and therefore does not matter that I feel targeted and weary? Is the right thing to do just to trust that God will put me where I am supposed to be—even if it means winding up on the Ball and Chain Duty for a year?

I want to hear your thoughts. It's your own personal Summons--a chance to weigh in on the future of the Virginia Legal System (because they'd clearly fall apart without me). Just please be gentle on me. I’m still a little jumpy from the whole fedora-sporting FBI agent scare.


Pines Lake Redhead said...

I'm about to jinx myself here...
I've been called twice and excused both times. The first time I had just moved out of state and the second time was for medical reasons. Every time my husband has been called he's been dismissed by the defense because we have a law enforcement officer in the family.

To answer your question, yes I do believe that it's a civic duty. But for some reason the Commonwealth of Viginia has a real affinity for you. I'd consider moving out of state.

5thsister said...

I've only been called once and was called off the night before. That's it. I have no experience nor want any. I feel your pain, however.

Catherine said...

lol, Mrs. Cindy, this was so funny! I'm sorry that I find amusement in your weary targeted state but your perspective on life is just fantastic! This is just about the funniest thing I've read on your blog (mind you, I've only ready 4 or 5 when they catch my eye on Facebook). It truly made my day.

As for advice, is there not a way to appeal this injustice? I too only know of few people who have a lot of experience with jury duty and then a lot of people who have never been summoned.I tend to think it's not as random as we are meant to believe.

It might be time to build that house in

Anonymous said...

Not a big fan of the thought of jury duty. Never have been called thankfully. If I wanted to be in court, I would have become a lawyer!!!

Bradley J said...

Frankly, compulsory jury duty is unconstitutional. It is in direct violation of the 13th amendment that forbids "involuntary servitude." It's certainly frustrating that this continues, but it's also not the most flagrant constitutional violation we have going on either.

I do consider jury duty to be a civic duty -- much like voting -- but, like voting, you should be able to skip it at will. People who just want to go home are not the people I want determining whether or not I'm guilty. I want a jury that cares to get the verdict correct.

Kathleen said...

I'm afraid I am of no help as the jury is still out with me as well. I didn't have the best attitude when I was summoned last year:

If I were to enter my plea right now without having thought it out more carefully, I'd say: Civic, patriotic duty? Yes. But as for voting/jury duty being our religious duty? I'd say no. Always test it against the Bible. I see nowhere in the Bible that says we must perform duties such as these. Submit to authority, yes, but jury duty? I don't know...I'll be interested to read everyone else's answers! :-)

mama-face said...

I think you are right in thinking that you are on some sort of roster. I know people who are repeatedly called up for jury duty and others who never are.

knocking on wood right now. So I would be a hypocrite to have an opinion on the moral question.

Gracey said...

I'm not an American, and we don't have a similar legal system here. However, I would consider it a hassle if serving was requested from me. I suppose it is ok to do it once, but these guys seem to be obsessed with you (and not in a good way! :P). I would do what I could to avoid the whole thing.

Anonymous said...

Hon, you know what I am going to say... LOL.... I would want a decent caring person on my jury and if we believe that everyone deserves a trial with a jury of thier peers (if they choose)then we all should step in and do our best. I know it's a hassle but it makes a difference. You could make a difference.
Still love me??

Gropius said...

Oh they definitely have you marked. They're after you. For sure. "Seemingly" is an excellent word. Using it often may keep them calling to find you, however. Randomness--it just doesn't exist. :)

Cynthia@RunningWithLetters said...

I have really enjoyed reading these comments--the variety of perspectives, and the gracious and thoughtful ways diverse opinions have been expressed so far.

Yep, moving sounds like the ticket at this point. We actually ARE building a new house sometime within the next year and I'm wondering if an out-of-county move will do the trick...if nothing else, it has made for interesting conversation :)

KB said...

The State of Virginia must be very different than the states I've lived in. I've been called for jury duty at least four times and been readily dismissed in every case. In one large city in Pennsylvania as soon as they saw that I was a college graduate they told me to leave. I argued that I wanted to do my civic duty and have the experience. The clerk actually said "We don't need you" turned his back to me as though he didn't hear and called the next person. I figured they wanted to employ some of the multitudinous urban poor who wold be true peers to most of the defendants.

Here in Minnesota I once completely forgot to report to the screening on time, but rushed to the county seat an hour late. I was told "It's too late. You might as well go home. We'll catch you next time." I came to the conclusion they don't want college educated people on juries.

An corporate executive friend was once called to a Federal jury for a complex financial case that lasted six months and was a real hardship because of her position. The guy, a crafty lawyer was obviously guilty and the jury said so. But six months later the guilty verdict was reversed on a technicality and he was free to go.
That gave me pause to consider how worthwhile our jury system really is. I think John Grisham's "Runaway Jury" shows how manipulable our system is. It's one of those "American" values we tout loudly. But many other civilized countries have criminal justice systems that are based on expertise and findings of fact and they get along just fine.

If I was in your shoes I certainly would look for one of your states disqualifiers and lay claim to it with a clear conscience even if it meant stretching the truth a bit. You've more than done your duty.

Julia, the Thanksgiving Girl said...

Haha, mug shots! Now that you said it, I must say the photos you linked look a little bit like they could actually be mug shots :)

What you describe does seem to be some sort of a loop... Living in uncertainty is one of the worst things :( I've never even really heard of such thing hapening before... Lucky me!

Holly said...

I have never served.For the last 9 years I have had a good excuse. My mom gets called all the time...and my dad used to be a police officer...and the lawyers have even said hi to her and she gets picked...I cannot figure out the system. I believe we should serve...I am surprised they continue to keep you in the loop as you are well spoken and educated. From everything I have ever heard form police officers and lawyer least in CA, the juries are not the brightest bunch (no disrespect meant to any who have served...just what I have heard).

Tracie said...

The Man is out to get you. No question about it. (I probably shouldn't have written that. He will get me too.)

I served on the Grand Jury last winter and I actually liked it. It was one day per week for 2 months. All the jurors got to be pals. It was like a geriatric Breakfast Club.


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