I moved to St Louis City in June 2006. The first time I received a jury summons was the following year, and I’ve just completed my second round of jury duty at the end of August. When my first jury duty was complete, the judge came into the jury room and spoke to each of us and thanked us for our service. He also told us that, because St Louis City has such a small number of eligible jurors, we could count on being called about every two to three years. He was pretty much dead on; this was my second time in five years.
It is also not easy to be excused from jury duty in St Louis City. Doctor’s notes are required if you claim a medical condition prohibits you from serving. Missing work, financial hardship, and general inconvenience cannot be argued, though you might be able to postpone your service for a short time. In other counties, apparently you can call on Sunday evening to see if you need to actually go to the courthouse on Monday morning. For us, we just have to be there at 8:00 a.m. on Monday morning and wait for our number to be called. If it is not called, we come back the next day and wait again, and so on and so on. The sitting around is tedious, but you can get some reading done. The jury assembly room had free Wi-Fi this time. It really only worked on one end of the hall, but then again it was available. Then there was the near stalking of the few available outlets. It could be a little like Animal Planet. If someone was sitting near an outlet and their number was called, someone would swoop in and claim that seat.
Once your number is called, you gather along with the 41 other potential jurors for a quick roll call and then on to the courtroom for jury selection. This process was relatively painless during my first jury duty stint. It was a civil case, I was chosen on Monday, and the trial ended Thursday evening. It was an interesting case pertaining to the inappropriate conduct of a hospital employee during a sleep study.
This time, my number wasn’t called until Tuesday, but again I was picked, and the trial began within minutes of seating the jury. This time it was a criminal trial rather than civil. The selection process felt like we, the jury pool, were on trial rather than the defendant. In fact, time taken for the selection process lasted more than half as long as the time spent on the eventual trial. This trial wasn’t as interesting, very sad and frustrating actually. It was a stabbing that took place between family members. It was difficult to hear, clearly difficult for some of the witnesses to talk about, and seemed like an open and shut case. Once we began deliberating, it was anything but open and shut. We discussed and deliberated for about three hours. We had the opportunity to submit questions to the court as we deliberated, and we did ask several questions…frustratingly, none were answered. I found myself in a situation I never would have imagined – on the short side of an 11 to 1 vote. It had to be a unanimous decision. It was a difficult decision and very interesting to see the thought processes of others on the jury. At times, it seemed hard to stay focused on the elements of the case as conjecture crept in. We had to “right the ship” a couple of times and refocus. It was amazing to me how the vote slowly went 8 to 4, then 10 to 2, and then 11 to 1 as I stood alone. I wasn’t trying to be obstinate; I was trying to resolve the facts with the definition of the charges in front of us. Twelve people have twelve completely different perspectives, opinions, theories, ideas, and it was fascinating to see each of those play out and begin to come together for a decision.
We did come to a unanimous decision by the end of the day, though I still struggled with that for a few days. Having had a week now to let it all settle, I’m comfortable with the decision we made. To be honest, I don’t know how much of my struggle was with the decision and how much was with the case and circumstances. All I can say is that it was a tough one for many reasons.
I know that it is an important service for each of us to participate in. One of the quotes in our handbook was “Justice is too important a matter to be left to judges and lawyers” from Chief Justice Rehnquist. A couple of other quotes that stood out were “Juries bring to the narrow letter of the law the community’s values of right and wrong” and “Why do we love this trial by jury? Because it prevents the hand of oppression from cutting us off” by Patrick Henry. It is a very important service, and I am happy to participate. At the same time, I’m also happy to be finished for two or three more years. Every time I hear someone say “I wish I could sit on that jury” when a crime is reported, I wonder if they would really feel that way after sitting in judgment of another person and having their future or their life in their hands. I think it may one of those things that seems like a slam dunk until you’re the one sitting in the jury box.