Thursday, July 29, 2010

Federal Jury Duty: Day 1 (A Post Riddled with Bullet Points)

  • The notice arrived in the mail, telling me I had to report for federal jury duty this week. That meant going into Philadelphia. Somehow, I managed to miss the fact that I had the option of getting a hotel room, which means that, after a 35-minute drive (because, of course, I got stuck behind the mobile home being transported up Rte. 30 in the wee hours of the morning, adding ten minutes to my drive. I cannot go east on Rte. 30 at any hour of the day without getting stuck behind such a vehicle), I hopped on the 6:55 a.m. train that would give me plenty of time to arrive at the court house by 8:30 a.m. There, I would begin the process of fulfilling my "three days or one trial." Decision: Tomorrow, I will look into getting a hotel room.
  • On the SEPTA train from the Thorndale to the Market St. East stations, I managed, out of all the empty seats in my car (needless to say, the train originates at Thorndale), to choose one in the same row as Mr. OCD Commuter's daily seat. How do I know he was Mr. OCD commuter? There I was, tons of seats in completely empty rows begging to be taken. I was on the aisle, two unoccupied seats to my right. At the first stop, Mr. OCD Commuter gets on the train, ignores all those rows with nobody in them, and asks me to excuse him, so he can climb over me and get to the window seat in my row. Only explanation I can fathom? He is Mr. OCD Commuter who must sit in the window seat of the fourth row on the left every single day. Decision: Tomorrow, when I board the train, I will take a window seat in a row on the left.
  • If you are not in the juror selection room, and your name is called, and you do not proceed to the room where they will screen you to see if you are a suitable candidate to sit on a trial, you can wind up spending three days in prison. We are told that unless we have been dismissed for a break, or for lunch, or for the day, we are to tell the person sitting next to us our name and where we will be. All right, we will forget the fact that this is absurd. Let's just look at some of the worries this news could dig up from some deep crevice in the brain. What if the person you tell forgets your name? What if the person you tell is a sociopath who thinks it would be amusing if you spent three days in prison? What if you're in the room, but the person who calls your name has a heavy accent, and you don't catch that it's your name? What if you have to throw up and have no time to inform the person next to you where you are going? What if someone tells you his name and you forget it and have to live with the guilt of sending someone to prison only because you've never been good with names? (Some talented writer could write a great -- either horrific or hilarious -- short story, huh?) Decision: I'm not leaving the room. Ever. Okay, maybe for lunch. And at the end of the day.
  • The employees who run the snack bar that we will be using for the next three or more days are, apparently, all visually impaired. We are requested, when using the snack bar, to tell them what we are buying, because that will help speed up the process. How nice that our federal government is employing the visually impaired. However, since someone could wind up in prison for three days if she doesn't respond when her name is called, wouldn't it make sense to employ only the speediest of cashiers at the snack bar located outside the juror selection room? Decison: I will bring my own snacks and a water bottle tomorrow.
  • Random thought while sitting in the juror selection room trying to figure out what everyone is reading: if your name is called, and you begin the screening process, are you less likely to be picked if you're reading something like A Civil Action as opposed to Eat, Pray, Love? Decision: I will bring an obscure title no one is likely to know with me tomorrow (although, probably no one knows Jane Heller and that I am reading a mystery today, since it looks like chick lit).
  • Advice to those who might find themselves sitting in a juror selection room: do not listen to something highly amusing on your iPod. Your incessant giggling is likely to lead to someone finding herself sitting in a courtroom, not as a juror, but rather, as a defendant (yes, I know I am a hypocrite, having been known to read things like Three Men in a Boat on an airplane. That's probably why he so annoyed me). Decision: I will bring my own ear buds tomorrow.
  • And then, the impossible happened: 40 people were called for screening. I was not one of them. Just before lunch, the majority of them began to file back into the room. They took their seats, and we were told, "Judge Sanchez has his jury, and I have news that will make you very happy. You need not report back tomorrow or the day after. Your duty has been fulfilled for the next two years." It wasn't even noon. Decision: off to the African American Museum I go (after, of course, a mandatory visit to the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site). Then, it's a snack at Reading Market - a place that was much more exciting in the days before I lived in Lancaster, home of the better market - before catching the 4:00 train home.


Watson Woodworth said...

I have always wanted to serve on a jury.
Was denied last time because the crime was a dope buy & they didn't like the fact that both my parents were addicts.
That's a lot of people to exclude.

ZoesMom said...

That sounds very much like my last time serving jury duty -- except that I was in Bridgeport so there was no museums to visit. I headed to Westport for lunch and shopping instead.

Linda said...

Hey Emily, I actually did end up serving on a jury in Philadelphia- not the federal court, though.
The case involved the sexual abuse of a minor and it was absolutely harrowing. I ended up making my own decision when the trial was over to use whatever means possible to avoid serving again. Oh, and I wasn't even allowed to bring my knitting while I waited through the interminable waiting/screening process. Everyone knows how deadly those darn needles are. No telling what kind of mischief I could have gotten into with two sticks and some string...

Emily Barton said...

Nigel, yes, that would definitely exclude a lot of people.

ZM, no Bridgeport isn't exactly Philly (LOL). I suppose you could have gone to the Beardsley Zoo, but I think you had the better idea.

Linda, oh yes, those extraordinarily dangerous knitting needles (LOL). However, I am thrilled I didn't get stuck on a case like that one.

Anne Camille said...

THe last 3 times I've been sent notice for jury duty, I haven't even had to go to the courthouse. I was a bit disappointed. I have been seated on two juries though. One was settled before the proceedings began, the other was a rape trial. It was emotionally draining, but was also rather interesting to observe all of the participants in the trial.

A few years ago, while working on developing software for a courts system, I was shadowing a judge. I was allowed to sit next to her behind the bench during a hearing. That was really an interesting experience.

litlove said...

Hurray! I cheered when you got let off. It reminded me of the years I had to go to academic conferences and the sense of release I felt nicking off to go shopping... Shopping should always be done in lieu of some other truly onerous activity. It tastes SO much better that way!

Stefanie said...

I came this close to serving on a jury the only time I have been called but the case got postponed and I was released. At least you got an amusing post out of your day :)

Emily Barton said...

Cam, I was very torn between wanting to be chosen (could be very interesting) and not wanting to be chosen (stuck on some incredibly boring embezzlement case or some such thing that kept me away from work for weeks at a time when I can't afford that). Shadowing a judge sounds like something I'd love to do, though.

Litlove, oh yes, I did consider shopping. But then Poe called (and who am I to defy Poe's call?).

Stefanie, yes. I am sure that by the third day (which is what I had planned on), I would have been more boring and less amusing.

Courtney J. Hall said...

Oh, thank you for this. I can only hope my upcoming jury service is exactly like yours. I too have to serve in Philly (I'm in Media; imagine my surprise when I Googled "federal jury duty" and your blog popped up! Howdy, neighbor) and have already mapped out my train route (Elwyn to direct to Market East). I'm not a fan of my day job by any means, but I'd much rather be here than there. And thanks to you I now know to pack my own lunch and water, maybe a John Grisham book or two, and an empty bottle to pee in so I don't miss my name and end up spending my long weekend in a jail cell.

Emily Barton said...

Courtney, glad I was able to help. Good luck, and I hope it's as painless for you as it was for me.