Shortly after I married and moved to Texas, my family informed me that the police were looking for me. I’d been sent a summons to report for jury duty, but never received it. (Note: If you don’t respond, they will come looking for you.) My sister told them I was in Texas, so they laughed it off and let it go. I was relieved, and it was several years before they contacted me again. Then it seemed that, for a while, I heard from the court system frequently.
The first time I reported after moving back to South Carolina, the attorney involved wanted men on the jury for a traffic violation case. (Perhaps because his client was a man.) Eleven of the twelve jurors selected were male, when was fine with me, especially since the lawyer was known as a trouble maker.
Several years later I was contacted concerning a federal case three hours away, and was instructed to be prepared to stay for a week. I packed clothing suitable for the courtroom, and each time I called, I was told to stand by in case they needed me. This kept me on pins and needles until the middle of the week, when I was told my service was complete.
I received another summons a few years ago, but since a relative of mine was in serious physical condition, I showed up on excuse day. The courthouse is rather imposing, since it’s connected to a prison, and I felt like a criminal while going through the metal detec- tor. That feeling followed me into the courtroom. I waited with several others, certain that my visiting a sick relative six hours away would prick the judge’s heart and she would tell me I was excused. Not so.
I handed her my excuse, written in detail, and waited silently while she read. She then gave me an expression I’d only seen in television courtrooms. “In a situation like this, what we do is defer you to another case.”
“But she’s six hours away and–”
“I’ll put you on a case several weeks from now, and you will be there.”
I decided not to worry, since it seemed so far off, and my relative eventually stabilized. When my notice letter arrived, I assumed I would call to be told I didn’t have to report. It didn’t happen that way.
I was instructed to be at the courthouse at one o’clock the next afternoon, so I hoped to be finished in time for a meeting at five-thirty. As a line of people waited to enter the courtroom, an officer handed out paper and pencils, stabbing some of us in the process. “Sorry,” she said several times. (I worried about lead poisoning.)
The woman in front of me wore a hairstyle which could be exhibited in the Hairstyle Hall of Fame (if there were one). Her multi-layered do consisted of brown and black stripes on tooth-shaped sections, and it was all topped with a crown of longer brown and black hair. I studied this masterpiece until we neared an official who checked off our names.
We filed into the courtroom, squeezing onto hard benches on the left side of the room (which wasn’t easy, since there were more than one hundred of us), and my attention wandered to the shoes of the lady next to me. They were the most adorned pumps I’ve ever encountered, with jeweled beads and feathers in several colors: purple, green, turquoise, and more on a navy background which ended in a distinct point. A few minutes later, when numbers were drawn, she was one of the first to head down the aisle to the jury box.
The chosen were asked questions concerning their occupations, whether or not they had been involved in a crime, and whether or not they were familiar with anyone involved in the case. I kept hoping my name would be called and they would decide I wasn’t a good candidate.
The jury selection was a slow process, and one lawyer leaned his head back on the wall behind him, shutting his eyes for a while. The judge, rather young for his position, leaned forward in his comfortable-looking leather chair, resting his chin on his hand. I heard snoring nearby, and thought someone was joking at first, but a man on my bench had dozed off. The person next to him signaled to the bailiff, who tapped him awake and suggested he step out of the courtroom. The judge was fading fast. He now had both hands holding up his face.
At the end of the day, the court was recessed until 2:30 the next afternoon. Since I knew what to expect, I thought the next session would be a breeze, as long as I wasn’t chosen. By then I understood that it would be better if my name were not selected, since only those excused left the jury box. Each time the official whirled the metal basket and drew a numbered cube, I prayed it wouldn’t be mine.
When the jury was finally selected, two alternates were chosen, since the judge had presided over a case which lost two members in one day. He told us to call two days later to see if we were needed. Dismissed, I was relieved; especially since it was a murder case.
Two weeks later I learned the case was declared a mistrial. After deliberating for at least four days, the jury was locked: Nine thought the defendant was innocent, and three said he was guilty. This made my deliverance even sweeter, but who knows what might happen next time . . .