I was not looking forward to this week. Not because I had a medical exam on the calendar, or because I had to deal with some other uncomfortable, personal issue.
Nope, I drew the jury duty card for this week.
Luckily, while I had to report yesterday, my service was completed in about three hours and I was a free man before afternoon school pickup time. I was sweating it, though.
I got called for a criminal case at the county court. The case revolved around a seedy tale of crooked cops, the scourge of illegal drugs, justice denied, and the general decline of our modern society. Well, not exactly.
It was actually an obstruction of justice case against a fire fighter from a small community who was charged with removing drug paraphernalia from the scene of a car accident that involved a relative of his.
This was my first time actually having to go to the courthouse for jury duty in Indiana. I’ve been called at least three times before. Once I got excused after I sent a letter to the judge saying I was a stay-at-home dad with a three-month-old at home. The other two times I recall, I called the night before and heard that my entire group had been dismissed. But this time I had to roll in by 8:15 Tuesday morning.
The bailiff ran through the procedure for the morning. From our group of about 30, fourteen of us – selected in order by their random juror number – would get loaded into the jury box for voire dire. I was #18, so thought I was safe.
Not so fast, though!
Not every number was accounted for. Although I was #18, I was in fact the 14th juror on the panel. So I got to stroll into the courtroom and sit in the jury box, the final person in the second row of seven. I will admit, the chairs were amazingly comfortable! We got a lengthy address from the judge, who was a former judge in private practice and filling in due to a family emergency by the normal judge. This guy was hilarious and kept all of us at ease. He rambled on through his instructions and initial questions to us for about 40 minutes. Then both the prosecutor and defense attorneys got 20 minutes to ask us questions.
I had no idea how Indiana courts worked. Could they select any seven of us from the pool, or were we considered in order? I didn’t realize until the end that those of us at the back-end of the first 14 were not getting a lot of attention. I was asked three questions, while a couple folks in the first 10 got peppered with questions. I should have figured out what was up and relaxed a little, but I was sweating whether I would end up on the final jury the whole time.
After the question session, the judge asked for the attorneys’ lists of who they wanted to strike from the panel. Wow, was it tense in the jury box! Jurors 3, 5, 10, and 13 got the boot. The judge asked the front row to slide down two seats, then for the first two people in my row to join the front row. He asked the attorneys if they approved, they both nodded, and he announced that the first seven would serve as the jury.
I was free! There is no relief like the relief of not making the final cut for jury duty!
My biggest relief was that, unlike most cases that this court hears, this was expected to be a three-day trial. I think the pace was going to be slower than normal because of the substitute judge. I’m all for doing my public duty, but three days seemed like a lot. I have a Google news alert set to track the case, but haven’t seen any new stories come across today.
I celebrated my freedom by eating a huge burrito and having way more caffeine than normal to counter the headache that had been building all morning. And I said a quiet prayer of thanks to the jury gods for looking out for me.
- Shocked that worked! ↩
- I had jury duty in Kansas City once. We had to sit around for several hours, waiting for the judge to call us for selection. The bailiff kept coming in and telling us it would be soon. After about 4 hours we were dismissed and told we had drawn a murder case, but the sides had been working on, and finally agreed to, a plea deal. ↩
- In Indiana if you’re called to serve, you get a two-year reprieve from future jury duty. One poor guy who made the final jury served as a juror in a very high profile case against a state elected official 26 months ago. ↩
- “A three-hour tour…” ↩