Last week, I had the privilege of being an alternate juror on a civil case. For some people, I realize this sounds like a nightmare. For me, it was like Christmas.
I am a bit of a legal junkie. Ever since my 6th grade Reading teacher, Mrs. Bollinger, read You Be The Jury books aloud in class, I’ve been hooked. I love courtrooms. I love jury trials. I have worked at law firms. I welcome conversations with attorneys whenever I meet one. I attended court proceedings in college for fun and have since. I watch televised trials whenever I can. I debated about law school but just never wanted to take the leap. So, jury duty was like a dream for me. And to be quite honest, being an alternate was even more fascinating.
For those who are not familiar with the term, an alternate juror is basically a back-up juror. In the event that one juror might have an emergency or get dismissed or become ill or any number of reasons, the alternate would step in to fill their empty seat. The alternate acts like a juror and participates in everything, except they do not get to deliberate or have a vote in the verdict. Basically, I participated fully until deliberations when I became a fly on the wall. I could say nothing and contribute nothing while the other six jurors debated and ultimately came to a unanimous decision. It was a really interesting process to get to witness firsthand.
Here’s what I learned from my experience as a(n alternate) juror, in no particular order:
- A group of random strangers can peacefully and respectfully come together, discuss, disagree, and make a big decision within a matter of a few hours.
- We rely way too much on our phones. Cell phones are not permitted to be used in court rooms or in the jury room, so for most of the day, we were untethered to our phones. Several of us commented regularly how much we recognized times when we would mindlessly reach for them.
- Nobody wears watches anymore. Had it not been for the two of us with our Fitbits, we would not have known the time.
- My heart rate dropped. I am typically in the 70s at resting heart rate. During the trial, when all I could do was sit and listen and had nothing distracting or vying for my attention, my heart rate dropped to the low 60s.
- Math is hard. During deliberations, there was some math required of the jurors. Everyone naturally wanted to reach for their phones to do the math. Even when the jurors requested a calculator from the bailiff, he said his first thought was, “What? Use your phones!” (Phones have to be confiscated and stored by the bailiff during deliberations.)
- Email can wait a day or two. I get worried being a small business owner, that I need to be available and responsive all hours of the day. Surprisingly, the world did not end while I was gone for three days and I could sit down to check my email once in the evening, which was much less anxiety inducing than checking it constantly throughout the day.
- A good judge can make all the difference. The county judge presiding over the case was most definitely in command of his courtroom, but not without humor and dry wit to lighten the mood. He was calm, stern, and fair. And he made us chuckle.
- Bailiffs are not always deputies dressed in uniform with a gun like on TV. I had a lot of questions for our bailiff. I’m pretty sure he thought I was trying to steal his job.
- You sit A LOT. I found myself pacing whenever we were in the jury room because it felt like I sat all.day.
- Attorneys can be just as curious about you as a jury as jurors are about the case/attorneys. Once the verdict has been read and the trial has officially concluded, attorneys, jurors, witnesses, media and anyone else can discuss the case, if they wish. We had several attorneys ask to speak with us and wanted to hear our thought process and our perspectives on the case. They were equally as curious about our thinking as we were about the behind-the-scenes information that we weren’t privy to during the trial.
- I would do it again. And I’m pretty certain my fellow jurors would say the same thing. We took our job seriously and tried our best to be fair and follow the law, but we also had a good time doing it.
Hopefully my experience will encourage and alleviate a bit of the dread that people feel when they get that jury summons in the mailbox.
Until they come up with “Professional Juror” as a career, I’m back to designing stationery this week…