This has been an interesting week. The most interesting part was the part where I reported for jury duty. The summons said, “Herein fail not,” so I made sure to show up well before the required time of eight o’clock in the morning. I had to drive downtown and park in a garage, which is not something I do very often, so I was nervous before I even got to the jury assembly room. That is one huge room that holds hundreds of prospective jurors in rows and rows of chairs, with giant television screens every few rows.
Each jury summons had a badge with a bar code on it and we were asked to tear these along the dotted lines and put them into plastic sleeves that would hang by strings around our necks. These badges were scanned at every step in the process, to make sure they kept track of everyone who was called. We had to listen to an introductory speech and watch an introductory video. After that, they asked everyone who had a medical reason they could not serve to raise their hands. These folks were called out of the room to talk to someone about their issues. We were told to save their seats because eighty per cent of them would be back. It’s not easy to get excused from jury duty.
I didn’t even try. I’m self-employed and my hours are flexible. I’m willing to sit on a jury if I am asked to do so. I even went out shopping on Sunday and bought new clothes. I used to have professional attire, but that was ten years and fifteen pounds ago. Since I became a tie-dye artist, my every-day uniform has been jeans and a T-shirt. A tie-dyed T-shirt. Not the sort of thing one wears for an appearance in a court of law.
I sat there in basic black and waited for my name to show up on the big screen. The first judge asked for eighty-four people. I was number forty-five. I figured it was good to be in the first group called that morning. Maybe I would get through the process and out the door before lunch.
Not exactly. The judge needed to choose twelve jurors and two alternates. He requested eighty-four people because the case he was trying was a serious case. A capital case. It was going to be a long day. I was pretty sure they wouldn’t want me for their jury because I am absolutely opposed to the death penalty, but that was not the first question they asked. It was not the second question, either. They had to ask eighty-four people a whole lot of other questions before they got to that one.
I had plenty of time to think about how I would respond to that one when it came. I considered it carefully, trying to imagine all possible scenarios, and I was still sure that when it came down to it, I would not be able to vote to recommend a death sentence for anyone. The law of the state of Florida may allow for a death sentence but I believe I am required to live by a higher law and that one requires non-violence.
They asked us to be honest. They asked us to rate our feelings about the death penalty on a one-to-ten scale, with one being, “I would not vote for it under any circumstances,” and ten being, “I would always vote for it in a capital case.” There were plenty of sevens and fives and twos. There were some eights and nines. There were a couple of tens. I was, of course, a one. What surprised me was that there were quite a few other ones.
My county is known to be a conservative county and I’ve heard that conservatives tend to favor the death penalty. I guess it makes a difference when people have to search their deepest souls and decide if they’re comfortable with blood on their hands.
It took a day-and-a-half for these lawyers to choose a jury. When we showed up Tuesday morning to continue the process, the tens were already gone. In the end, so were the ones, which did not surprise me. I was happy to be excused. I have always wanted to sit on a jury, but not when the defendant’s life is on the line.