this (dutiful) life
“DOES anyone have a problem with manslaughter?” we are asked. After one morning of orientation, a quick visit to a courtroom and a swearing-in, we are ready for jury duty.
We report as directed by a daily text message. We turn off our phones and follow the sheriff’s officer to the courtroom.
Judge, lawyers, sheriffs, court reporters and the accused are all waiting for us. The charges are read and the accused moves to the dock; he is remarkably young.
The judge instructs us to listen to a list of names of possible witnesses. Do we recognise any of the names?
It’s time for selection. The judge’s assistant pulls tickets out of a big wooden box, filled with our assigned jury numbers. One by one, when our numbers are called, we stand up and walk across the courtroom towards the jury box. Twice the defence lawyer calls “challenge!” and the potential juror returns to their seat; rejected, relieved. My number is called. I am not challenged. Now the jury is full. The judge excuses the rest, and the case begins.
It feels like we have suddenly stepped into a television show. The lawyers wear strange wigs and robes. The language is formal, and the rules are strict.
Soon we are on a bus to view the crime scene. It is all so far away from our everyday lives. We hurriedly make phone calls to work and family. “I’m on a jury,” we tell them, and that is all we can say.
Over the days that follow, we are told a story in a totally unfamiliar fashion; with no background information and never knowing what’s coming next.
The courtroom is always full. Several times each day, we silently file in, all eyes on us, to sit and listen.
Many of us are coming in from a long way away and are not used to the city commute, but the trial cannot start until we are all there, so we are never late.
We deliberate for four hours before filing into court for the last time. Our foreperson delivers the verdict.
The courtroom is filled with a mixture of screams and gasps.
The judge thanks us for our service and we are excused. It is late. We are told to wait in the jury room until everyone has gone, then we are taken out a different exit and given escorts to cars or taxis.
We all return to our homes and try to make sense of what has just happened.
A week later, and I’m back in the jury pool room for another case. “Does anyone have a problem with break and enter?”