Last week, I reported to the county courthouse for jury duty. I didn’t want to go, didn’t want to end up on a long trial, have to cancel plane reservations to Hawaii, forgo work on my novel. I even considered what biases I might reveal to keep me off a case.
After an orientation, a clerk called the first group of potential jurors. I was number three. The judge, who came across as both kind and strict, promised the case would be short. By afternoon, the lawyers were giving their opening statements to the thirteen chosen jurors, including one alternate and me. Suddenly I was a happy juror. Three became my lucky number.
Throughout the trial, I took notes and listened closely to the witnesses’ testimonies. I was so interested I never yawned, no matter how hot the courtroom became. After all, what is a trial, but a series of storytellers sharing their accounts of what happened as it related to a conflict. The story is incomplete until twelve jurors come up with an ending that fits the evidence they’ve heard. Not a happy ending for all, but still an ending.
On day three, the lawyers presented their closing arguments, and the judge read her instructions for our deliberation. Right before we filed out of the courtroom, the judge said, “And now I’ll identify the alternate juror.” Huh? I thought it was number thirteen. She went on. “Our alternate is number three. Thank you for your service. You can hand in your notebook to the bailiff and leave the building.”
I was stunned. Why me? I wasn’t ready to leave. I wanted to take part in the last phase of the trial; otherwise, I couldn’t help write the ending to all the stories I’d heard.
The bailiff handed me a certificate for “Loyal and Patriotic service.” She told me the judge drew number three the first day of the trial, thus determining my fate before the first witness came to the stand.
“I guess I shouldn’t buy a lottery ticket,” I said, as the bailiff hustled me out the door.
She called today. I peppered her with questions. “Who did they choose as the presiding juror? What was the decision? Was it a unanimous vote?”
I told her how fascinating the three days had been and that I was crushed at being left out. “Your experience is like most others. They don’t want to do it, but when it’s over they’ve found it to be both memorable and meaningful.”