I got called for jury duty last week. Again.
They never call you at a good time- when nothing is going on and you welcome the diversion.
When I got called three years ago, I went grudgingly- I had a heavy course load and lots of workshops to prepare for. But then when I got into the big room with all the other citizens, they showed us a video called “The American Juror.” It included a clip from To Kill a Mockingbird. Seeing Gregory Peck play Atticus Finch turned the tide of my attitude from “Why did they have to call me this week of all weeks?” to “I almost hope I get picked!”
They divided us into groups of 25 and sent us to various courtrooms. Three years ago, I was in a jury pool for a alleged gang beating. If you’ve been in a jury pool before, you know the drill. First the prosecuting attorney addresses the prospective jurors, educating us on the law, asking us pointed questions and making notes on those people they want on the jury and those they do not.
During the prosecuting attorney’s time with us, I had to open my big mouth and say that I wouldn’t hold it against someone who didn’t testify on their own behalf because, as a preaching instructor, I understood how frightened many people are of public speaking. As soon as those words came from my lips, I saw him lift his pen and cross my name off his list. Oh, well. I would have made an excellent juror: unbiased, attentive and fair. But at least now I could get back to the classroom and lesson plan preparation.
When I got my most recent summons a few weeks ago, I had that familiar sinking feeling. “Why this week when I’m getting ready to lead an educational tour of South Africa with 19 students from my school? I need this week to prepare and pack.” But I went. And, as I walked into the big room with all the other citizens, I felt the same surge of hope that this time, despite the inconvenience to my plans, I might be chosen. Again, I was put in a group of 25 people. We were each assigned a number. We were led to a courtroom by the bailiff. This time it was a DUI case.
Once again, the prosecuting attorney addressed us first, instructing us on the law and asking us pointed questions. She launched into an elaborate “hypothetical,” situation and asking how we would respond. I guess I let my poker face slip for a moment. “You look perplexed, #14,” she said. What are you thinking? “I’m thinking your hypothetical is a little too hypothetical for me. I need more information.” Out came her pen and she scratched off my name.
“All right,” said the young defense attorney. “First of all, do any of you have a problem with standing in judgment over someone on religious grounds?”
My first thought was,
“Heck no! Religious people, including myself, judge people all the time. This is just a chance to do it in a legally sanctioned context. He then went down the list of all 25 prospective jurors and we all had to say yes or no. Everybody said “No.”
His next question was, “Has anyone ever gotten a ticket?” Not thinking, I raised my hand.
What for?” he asked.
“Rolling through a stop sign.”
“He looked down at his juror list. “Juror #14, You are Rev Dr. Alyce McKenzie, and you teach preaching at SMU?
I nodded. It was too late to deny it.
“You do realize,” Dr. McKenzie, that you could have killed someone?”
“Yes, but in my defense, I did look to the right as I rolled through it and there was no one coming.”
“That’s not the point,” he chided me. “You could have killed someone. How many of you think that Dr. McKenzie should have been sent to jail?”
Thankfully, none of my fellow potential jurors raised their hands.
“Right, so we don’t punish people for crimes that they could have committed but did not. I want you all to be clear on that point with regard to the defendant.”
“Well good for the defendant,” I thought. “But I just got thrown (or actually threw myself) under the bus.”
I was deselected and released at 1:30pm. Neither side wanted me apparently. It only stung a little. When I get called again in 3 years, I’ll wear my poker face and keep my mouth shut.
I was lamenting my deselection on face book later that day. My nephew Zachary, who is in law school, commented that they never pick professionals like doctors, lawyers, or ministers. They don’t want a juror to whom others will look to for information or insight. They want jurors to look to the lawyers for that. “A medical doctor has superior medical knowledge,” said Zach. “A lawyer has legal knowledge.” And, he said, “A minster is perceived as providing a moral compass for the jury.”
Well that made me feel better. Even ministers who roll through stop signs can be perceived as as moral compasses!