Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Civic Duty

Have you seen "Flightplan"? It's a mediocre 2005 movie starring Jodie Foster. I saw previews for it back when it was new. I never really wanted to see it. I knew what it was &ndash I knew it was chock full of action and suspense as Jodie desperately tried to find her missing daughter on a trans-Atlantic flight. Surely she's onboard somewhere. We saw her there. But is Jodie's character crazy? What's happening? I could have written this script. All I wanted to know was how it was going to end. The whole point of this movie is, of course, how do they resolve it? Is the little girl, or is not the little girl, really missing on that plane somewhere?

I never really wanted to see this movie. I never thought I would. Not worth renting, certainly not worth seeing in the theater. But I kinda wanted to know what happened to that little girl.

So there I was, early this afternoon, sitting in the Juror Lounge at the Moultrie Courthouse in Washington, D.C. I was summonsed for jury duty. I arrived at 8, and by 12:30, there had been three jury panels called and I was not on any of them. Lunch was promised at 1. I was struggling with a faulty wireless network, trying to get some work done during the brief intervals of Internet connectivity I could grab. And "Flightplan" was showing on the TVs throughout the room.

Fast-forward to 12:55. I'm starving. It's almost lunch. I've finished the last piece of the membership newsletter and I'm just about to get the wireless to work so that I can e-mail it to some awaiting coworkers so it can be sent out. And "Flightplan" is just about to resolve itself.

And they call a new jury panel. And they call my number.

So I missed the end of "Flightplan" and still have no idea what actually happened. And I was late for lunch, and the members had to wait a few hours for their newsletter.

But – I finally was called to sit on a jury panel. I've loved the idea of jury service since I covered the courts for the Deseret News and fell in love with our judicial system. I finally get to see what happens behind the scenes.

It was a long day. Lots of sitting and waiting and 15-minute breaks and then sitting and waiting some more.

At the end of the day, I made the cut. I was one of the final 14 people still sitting in the juror box after all the attorneys, the defendant and the judge had had their say. I am a juror for a criminal case. It may sound strange, but this is a dream come true.

I am in love with our American system of justice. I know that a lot of people bemoan their mandatory summons for jury service. I got the hunch that most of the other people who were called to jury duty today were annoyed by the meticulous, detailed, step-by-step intricacies of today. Waiting for their number to be called. Waiting for the judge to repeat the exact language of the juror qualification questions for a third time. Waiting for the precise procedure to play out.

I know that most people think legalities are trifling and excessive. I am really in love with it. Its exactness. The way it carefully and cautiously ensures a level playing field for defendant and accuser. Of all of America's ingenious systems, our judicial system is the most genius and the most amazing.

When I used to sit in courtrooms as a newspaper reporter, I usually had an opinion. I tried to remain as unbiased as I could for the sake of fair reporting. But I knew the cases' backstory. I heard the lawyers' chat in the hallway. I knew what the judge and the attorneys were talking about in the courtroom when the jurors were safely tucked away. I was impossibly biased, and I usually had a hoped-for outcome. I always wanted to be a juror, to see what that blank-slate feeling was like, to see if I could actually enter a trial completely free of preconception or bias. And here I am, about to be one-fourteenth of a panel deciding what will hereafter be considered the settled truth about what did and didn't happen in a specific case. And I can honestly say I have no idea what the outcome will be. I know nothing about the facts of the case, nor of the accusations or allegations. I don't know the defendant. I don't know the backstory.

I know I will make the right decision.

I know American justice is the final word in justice. I love this system – and now I'm part of it!

9 comments:

SB said...

Wow! Congratulations on your dream come true! You'll be a great rural juror.

PS: She was on the plan. And she lives.

Jeanne said...

I love how entertaining you can make a story like serving on a jury sound. I am so happy for you and I know you will be a great juror! Good luck!!!

Marie said...

For me, the most striking part of your post is when you say "I know I will make the right decision." I'm happy for you that you have such confidence in yourself. I'd like to think that about myself -- I've never been on a jury -- but I worry it would be one of those crazy cases, like the ones on "Dateline" that have too many unanswered questions. Good luck!

amelia said...

This is the most hardcore thing I have ever read on jury duty. Go you! I hope it's something cool (I'm morbid - and hoping for a murder trial).

Oh, and she is alive in the underbelly of the plane. The mom finds her - the bad guys blow themselves up somehow - Jodie Foster walks off the plane with her daughter - the crew and passengers feel like dumbasses.

Brian said...

You. Are. A. Nerd.

Emmalee said...

Yay for jury duty! I had jury duty last december (I was 8 months pregnant!). And I was picked for a jury. But just before the trial started the defendant took a plea. :( There went my Law & Order moment. I was so bummed - I've always wanted jury duty.
So I hope you enjoy your juror time. Good Luck! We'll all love to hear how it goes!

Jacelle said...

Thanks Amelia....i was all fired up about him not getting to see the end. Well I never really wanted to be a juror but my best friend just got through with it and you would think she had been on a exotic vacay by the way she talked about it afterward.....
See you this weekend!

Kelly said...

If the name Jodie Foster isn't enough to get you into the theatre, I'm afraid there's no hope for you.

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