My Time in the Justice System

Who says we only get junk mail and bills at our house?  Recently, I got a jury summons in the mail.  That’s what happens when you register to vote.

I was able to fill out everything online, then got a notice to show up on Monday.  “You’ve got all the luck,” my husband grumbled.  He’s never been on a jury or even a focus group, which he thinks is unfair.

So I showed up at the Travis County Courthouse, along with about 30 other lucky winners.  A grumpy-looking sheriff’s deputy kept making announcements while we sat and waited.

“I wish I’d brought something to read,” the woman next to me said.

She looked at my lap, which overflowed with a newspaper, weekly magazine and a big, thick novel.  I’m like a traveling library, everywhere I go.  I come prepared for all possibilities.  They could take us hostage for a week and I’d still be reading.  “You want to read the magazine?” I asked.  She did.

The deputy called our names and gave us numbers on the end of popsicle sticks.  I was #14.  Then he had us line up in numerical order, making four lines.  It was kind of like being in the third grade again, waiting to go to the cafeteria.  Either that or the army.

“Let’s take a break,” the deputy said.  “We’ll get back in line in 10 minutes.  Memorize your place in line.”

I memorized my place.  I was right between #13 and #15.

“Anybody got to go to the bathroom?” the deputy announced.  “Go now.”

We disbanded, we went to the bathroom, we collapsed back on the benches, grumbling and making faces.  Time passed.  The deputy told us that if we got parking tickets, he could fix them.  We all perked up at that.

I looked around the waiting area.  I wondered if this would be like the last time I was on a jury five or six years ago.  We heard a criminal case.  Our defendant was the most inept criminal who ever lived.  He tried to rob a bank without a weapon and got caught in about 35 seconds.  I don’t even think he got any money.  I could relate to that.  l go around feeling guilty 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, even when I haven’t done anything.  If I ever committed a crime, I’d be a total mess, begging the authorities to haul me in. 

The first day, the 12 of us on the jury were all best friends.  We went to lunch together, talking and laughing.  After hearing the case and beginning our deliberations the next day, though, we were hardly speaking to one another.

One of the other jurors, whose brother was in prison, chided the rest of us that we weren’t forgiving enough, the way she was.  “You all don’t see the good in human nature like I do,” she announced.  She wanted to give the defendant an easier sentence than even his own attorney asked for.  Good grief.

Within a few minutes, we all hated her.  I’m pretty sure we could have gotten together a majority vote to send her off to the penitentiary for being a brainless, self-righteous twit and let the defendant go.  Instead, we had to stay and placate her, since we wanted to come up with a verdict in the next decade or so.  “I’m really going against my conscience on this one,” the twit said, glaring at the rest of us.  Believe me, you don’t make many friends by implying you have a conscience and no one else does.

“Fall in line again,” the deputy said.  We fell in line, then marched into the courtroom.

“I’ve got good news and bad news,” the judge said.  The good news was that, during the hour we’d been in the waiting room, almost all the cases had been settled.  The other good news was that we had to leave without hearing a case.

I was disappointed when I got to my car.  I hadn’t even gotten a ticket that could be fixed.  In the meantime, I’m still wondering what the bad news was.  I must have missed it — just like the parking ticket.

(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)

8 comments… add one
  • Ruth, I was reading and grinning, as I usually do with your posts, but when you said you memorized your place in line, I actually laughed out loud. All alone in my office. Which is a funny thing. 

    And I think you Pennebakers must have some dirt on the NYTimes folks, since you’re always appearing there. Saw Jamie on the front page a few minutes ago. It’s all Pennebaker all the time. 🙂

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    We just keep handing the newspaper large amounts of cash on a regular basis.  It’s a nice article, in case anyone else wants to see it:

  • What is with people who show up to things like that with nothing to read? They’re expecting maybe entertainment?

  • I had somehow been dropped from the voting registration, and since I had been sick, I did not want to be called to jury duty….so, I never reregistered. Then, oh, no…I was summoned to jury duty. I re-registered to vote while on jury duty……

  • oh, yes, welcome to time goes new blogger, that is how I found you….

  • I know how to not get selected for a jury…have an opinion!  Every time I’ve ever been, they question me and then send me home.  Or maybe they found out about my past.  Or maybe they just think I’m a nut.  Yeah, that’s probably it.   Thanks for another great read! 

  • CindyD Link

    My most memorable jury experience was serving on a jury where Leslie, the Austin icon, was being charged with sleeping on the street.  Believe it or not it was a hung jury.  One guy held out saying, “i’m not going to find him guilty.  When my wife throws me out I have to sleep in my pickup.”

  • Winston Link

    I memorized my place.  I was right between #13 and #15.
    That seals it.  I can see the marker on your tombstone now:
    Ruth was nothing if not astute!
    I have been called to jury duty once.  I was in my forties.  On the appointed day we all gathered in a large room to wait.  In the jury pool, I rediscovered my ninth grade science teacher.  Mrs. MacDonough and I had a lovely time catching up.  None of us were called to action, so after a couple of hours we were dismissed until the following morning.  On the second day, Mrs MacDonough pulled from her bag the grade book for the class I had been in.   She remembered quite well that particular group of bright young things we had all been.  As she was commenting on my long string of A’s, she suddenly sucked in her breath– I had somehow failed to turn in a theme on the solar system!  All was still well, however.  I had scored a 98 on the final exam.  Again, we were not called to hear a case and were sent home.  I spent the rest of the day typing a paper on the solar system.  On day three, I turned the paper over to Mrs. MacDonough.  Laughing, she tucked it in her bag.  Again, we were sent home with no case to hear.  Day four arrived at the courthouse.  Mrs. MacDonough returned my paper with an A+ mark.  The bailiff immediately assigned us to hear a case.  We were seated in the jury box and the presiding judge asked each of us a few questions.  Did I know any of the participants? Yes, the prosecuting attorney is my cousin.  Did I think I would let that become a problem in arriving at a fair verdict? Your Honor, I am a teacher.  I allow nothing to interfere the truth.  The defendant conferred with his attorney, who, in turn, offered no objection to my presence on the jury.  When questioned by the judge, Mrs. MacDonough stated she had been a teacher of science and was swayed by nothing but the purity of fact.  After the judge declared the jury fit to sit trial, the defendant gave the jury a studied look, conferred again with his attorney– and CONFESSED!  He must have done poorly in school.

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