This past week I went back to my sweet home state of Ohio to do what one judge has called, "[the most] valuable work that a citizen can perform during peacetime." Jury duty, baby! Yes, while both of my grandfathers served in World War II and some of my friends have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, I served my country by going to a courthouse for four days, sitting in a nice room with a bunch of couches, and playing on my phone while watching Queen Latifah on the TV. You're welcome, America! And also, I'm sorry.
Jury duty seems to always get a bad/hilarious rap due to such bad/hilarious movies about jury duty, like the Oscar winning* classic, Jury Duty. But no matter what the preconceptions, I found my jury duty experience to be enjoyable, educational, and more importantly, kind of pointless. The whole thing began when I received my jury duty summons in the mail from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, as you are chosen for jury duty if your name is on the county voting rolls. As I still vote in Ohio (my vote always matters more there than in New York, from presidential to local elections,) it was finally my time to shine. Some people are also brought in via lists of state driver's licenses, so if you don't vote or have a driver's license, you pretty much don't exist and are in the clear.
After a brief orientation at 8 am on Monday with the nice jury managers and Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Daniel T. Hogan, 119 of my fellow citizens and I became part of that week's jury pool, which did not actually involve a pool or the bathing suit I totally brought. Once we were in the "pool," at any point between 9am and 5pm we could get "called" for a case, which meant 20 of us would go get vetted for a potential trial. This vetting process is called "voir dire", a French term for "you're under oath now and will be questioned by the judge, prosecution and defense attorneys to see if you're fit for this case and oh man, you better tell the truth, the whole truth, so help you baby Jesus," or something like that.
The Court of Common Pleas tries two kinds of cases, criminal and civil. Twelve jurors are needed for criminal cases -- trials where people are accused of crimes by the state, with unanimous verdicts required -- and eight jurors are needed for civil cases -- trials involving lawsuits of $15,000 or more, with six jurors needing to agree on a verdict. I actually did get "called" for a civil case involving a traffic accident, but during the "voir dire" I had to tell the truth about how I haven't had a driver's license since 2010, so that disqualified me from that one. From there it's quite possible I was considered too "smart" since I mentioned I was a Columbia University alumni on my questionnaire form (little did they know I was the dumbest person at Columbia) and I'm pretty sure mentioning my affiliation with the Libertarian Party disqualified me from any drug cases as, like many libertarians, I think all drugs should be legal, regulated and consumed heavily at all times. It also probably didn't help that I drew little penises and boobies all over my questionnaire.
So instead of serving my country by making the difficult decisions required by our modern legal system, I sat in the jury "pool" for the next three days, watching Queen Latifah on the TV from 9am until 10am, and then a movie chosen by the jury managers afterwards until we were released for lunch, or sometimes for the day, around noon. Some of the movies we watched included Trouble with the Curve starring Clint Eastwood and Oblivion starring Tom Cruise. You know what movie they didn't show? The Oscar winning* film Jury Duty. Go figure.
On Thursday, with all the cases of the week assigned jurors, settled out of court or postponed, my fellow citizens and I who were never selected for a jury were released. And you know what? Even though none of us did anything, we still got $20 a day for our troubles! Isn't that cray cray?! $20 a day for doing nothing, the same amount that all those dummies who actually served on juries got paid. And, since I rode to the courthouse with my dad on his way to work and then coaxed him into buying me lunch downtown everyday, I didn't have to spend any money on parking or food. This means I totally made $80 for doing nothing! Do you know how many illegal drugs I can buy with $80?! $80 worth!!
In all seriousness though, I do want my jury duty experience to encourage others to participate in the judicial process when their time comes. The jury managers in Franklin County have been saddened by the apathy they see when it comes to jury duty -- most people ignore the call entirely or make up some clearly made-up excuse. If this is/was/has been you, I strongly encourage you to reconsider. My appreciation for the judicial system completely changed thanks to my four days at the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, even though I didn't do shit, and I have a newfound understanding of criminal and civil cases and the differences between them. The jurors who were selected for criminal cases were making especially difficult decisions, from determining the outcomes of murder cases, arson cases and everything in between (drunk school-bus driver cases anyone?) Most people just really don't know about the judicial process in our country until they are caught up in it, but the fact that we even have "juries of our peers" is a blessing. It's a right guaranteed by our Constitution and a tradition that goes all the way back to the Magna Carta in 1215, so authorities can't just accuse people of crimes all willy-nilly, or drone bomb them to death without a trial, or throw them into indefinite detention for unknown reasons. Yes sir, jury duty is part of what makes America America.
So give jury duty a try if you are called up. And if you need any more insight into the process before you go, I highly recommend checking out the Oscar winning* film, Jury Duty, which pretty much nails it. Or just watch Queen Latifah on the TV.
Follow Travis Irvine on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TheTravisIrvine