Went to my first jury duty on Monday. I’ve been summoned a number of times before, but I had excuses (school) and the time I didn’t, the case was settled or dismissed when I called the day before. None of that yesterday. I showed up to the courthouse bright and early and waited in line. After a lazy and disinterested security guard watched me walk through a metal detector, I was lucky enough to sit in a lobby for almost 2 hours.
Everyone seems to hate jury duty and it’s easy to see why. It’s usually way too early in the morning, it stops them from doing whatever they had planned that day, even if it was just working, and the worst part is the waiting. I was there for around 5 hours total. The last 2.5 hours were actually fascinating to me. But up to the selection process, it was so completely infuriating. Why did we need to be there? The check in/roll call process took all of 15 minutes, but it was spread over 2 hours. Then we were broken up into smaller groups, which took 5 minutes, 10 if you want to take your time. But there you have it. Two and a half hours until we were stuffed into a courtroom and the judge listened to hardship claims. This must have been at least 30 minutes long. It was slightly interesting though. People went up and talked about why being a juror would be unreasonable for them. It centered around language issues or money issues. Most just didn’t want to be there and the judge asked pretty entertaining questions, obviously hearing these poor excuses countless times before. He let some people go and then it was potential juror question time.
I was second to be called to the jury box. It being my first time, I was a bit nervous. I have some reservations about how the courts work in America (and probably elsewhere if I was aware of how they worked elsewhere). And my current stance on free will and restorative justice and moral responsibility need some clarifying and I was a little worried they’d get in the way of my ability to think clearly about this, or any, case. But, I wanted to give it my best try. If you’re going to be there, then you should probably care.
Anyway, the first 18 called were quickly culled down to 10 or so (yes, they were slaughtered), and replaced. More were excused. More called up. I was able to hang in there for a long time. There were so many questions regarding our ability to be unbiased. This is interesting to me because I know that no one is unbiased, but I understood that the judge meant unbiased to the best of your ability and I stayed quiet. Then some bigger tests. “Can you be unbiased when listening to a police officer or priest testifying?” Hmmm. I’m a bit wary of authority figures. Cops aren’t my favorite people, and priests aren’t too high up there, either. But I thought I’d be able to judge the truth and honesty of their testimonies without bias. I know that there’s a good chance that unconsciously I would judge these people more critically than a regular person. Regardless, again, I kept my mouth shut. It was getting near the end of the process for us. The judge asked all his questions and the defense attorney asked hers (she asked a single question). The prosecutor was questioning us, and asking rather obtuse questions. While other questions were along the lines of, “Have you been involved with nonprofits before and would that experience prevent you from objectively assessing information regarding them?” Meanwhile, the prosecutor was talking about what it meant to find someone guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and the reason why we have juries in the first place. People were awkwardly answering her questions, and usually not doing very well.
Then she asked about company credit cards. And this is where I got in trouble rather suddenly and surprisingly. She asked who had one in the past. Maybe 6 or 7 people raised a hand. Then asked what they were told when they were given the credit card, they all said more or less the same thing, “Spend it on specific items relevant to the business.” So if you work in an office, you buy office supplies or use it to ship things out to other offices, whatever. That is what every single person said in regards to company cards. I was on board so far. She then asked “What would be okay to buy if you were given a company credit card without any rules?” (The wording was awkward, though I might not have remembered it word for word.) The question was stupid. She didn’t ask what I would buy if I were given a company credit card with no rules. She asked what is okay to buy. But the question is worse than that. Because any reasonable person would say something like, “Hey boss, who wordlessly handed me this company card, what can I use this on?” But her question presumes that he either said “Anything” or refused to answer. In which case, I answered as honestly as I could when she turned to me. I said you could use it to buy whatever you want. I knew this was the wrong answer. I knew she was trying to “cleverly” get us to say that there were ambiguities so that she could get rid of the potential jurors who would sympathize with the defendant. She was calling on our intuitions to say that it’s still wrong to buy something unrelated to the business even if it’s never stated. I knew I was going to get excused for my answer but I couldn’t let it pass. I felt I should point out how ridiculous the question was by giving an equally ridiculous answer. After I responded, an old lady in the row in front of me said that the question didn’t make sense. She said surely someone would mention what you could use the card for. Other people were equally baffled and said (not in these words) that it allowed for blurring the line. For instance, whether or not you can buy coffee on the way to work, or pay for your gas when driving to work. But I was the only one willing to do take it to it’s absurd, but logical, extreme.
In college, you normally aren’t allowed to cheat on tests or plagiarize material. Yet, I struggle to think of a course in which the professor didn’t hand out a syllabus with the Universities’ stance on cheating and plagiarism. On the first day of class you would often hear, “You all know this already, but we have to put it on the syllabus.” Even this isn’t a good analogy because the school has rules in place, the professors are simply required to remind us. In her scenario she didn’t say anything about there being rules in place that the person who handed you the card failed to mention. She said there were no rules. (The question contained so many assumptions. I should have just said it was a stupid question in a polite way in order to stay on.)
It terms of whether spending company money on anything you want is right or wrong is an irrelevant issue. It’s about what you can and can’t do. Would I buy a new home computer if my car service company gave me a card? No. Would I use the card to take me to Europe? No. I wouldn’t use the card on anything completely unrelated to the business that gave it to me, but what I would or wouldn’t do has nothing to do with the law or, more broadly, what is right and wrong. My personal held views of what people should and shouldn’t do only matter in regards to how I behave.
I was a little disappointed about being excused from the jury. I did feel it was inevitable, though.