“Juries scare me. I don’t want to put my faith in 12 people who weren’t smart enough to get out of jury duty.”
We have lived in Colorado Springs since the fall of 2018. A few weeks ago I received a summons to appear for jury duty in the mail. Of course my first thought was, “how the heck can I get out of this?” Full disclosure… I am a 65 year old white male and I have NEVER fulfilled my civic duty by serving on a jury. Don’t get me wrong, the various jurisdictions in which I have resided throughout my past have requested my presence. I’ve just been able to avoid it or, quite frankly, just ignored it with complete success. But, for some reason, this time even though my first thought was avoidance at all cost an immediate second thought was, “why not?”
Since I left my career in broadcast sports television I’ve been writing books, most of them are mysteries. All of those involve cops and crimes and circumstances that may or may not involve courtrooms, judges, and yes, juries. So it was going to be research! It was also something that I honestly believe is my duty as an upstanding member of the community in which I now live. It’s also a fact that I don’t have a good reason any longer NOT to serve. I have the time. A quick glance at my calendar showed the only thing on the horizon was a colonoscopy and having to reschedule that procedure wouldn’t break my heart. So the bottom line is I logged on to the El Paso County website and, in so many words, informed them that I’d be honored to serve.
Crimes happen in Colorado Springs and El Paso County every day. Some of them are serious. Like any place in America with more than a million people folks get robbed and assaulted and murdered. Banks get robbed, cars get stolen, bad people do awful things. Sometimes good people get accused of doing awful things and they need good lawyers and a jury of their peers to seek the truth and free them if they are indeed innocent of the thing their being accused of committing. I, of course, had no way of knowing the circumstances of the case to which I’d be assigned and I didn’t care.
According to the summons I was juror number 2435. I was was scheduled to appear on a Thursday and instructed to call the court the prior Wednesday evening to receive my instructions, which I did. My number fell in the group that was required to show up at the courthouse no earlier than 8 AM and no later than 8:30 AM. I was given instructions with regard to a special entrance for prospective jurors, where to park, and what I was allowed to and not to bring. Thursday came and to downtown Colorado Springs I headed.
When I arrived there were 15 to 20 people in line ahead of me and four or five more showed up and fell in behind me. I noticed the folks ahead of me were a mix of young, older, male. female, white, and not. As we waited in the “jurors only” line other folks walked past and right into the building. For what purpose or to what fate I hadn’t a clue. There were attorneys, for sure, and I wondered which of them would be standing in front of me as I sat in the jury box. Would it be the middle aged guy with the shoulder length hair in the shark skin suit? Maybe the blonde in the colorful dress and magenta stilleto heels? Or even the young, prematurely balding, gentleman who dropped a handful of files while efforting to attach his mask before going inside. Would they ask me questions and, if yes, what would they be? Would they see me as a potential ally or a threat?
Clearly this is as good a time as any to repeat that I have never before served on a jury and my experience of the experience is restricted to books, movies, and television shows. Because of that I admit to probably harboring a romanticized version about what goes on.
There were other people who made their way into the courthouse building as I stood and waited in line. Law enforcement officers for certain. Defendants, maybe. Witnesses, could be. Family members and observers, no doubt. Some of the lawyers carried briefcases, others had both hands under boxes and still more pulled their work product behind them like luggage headed through airport screening. I watched and wondered what facts existed in those boxes and cases and what arguments, both for and against, were the byproduct of everything inside. I took a couple of steps closer to the entrance.
As I did I took another look at my fellow jurors and considered whether if it was me on the inside, awaiting trial, would I want this group of my peers deciding my fate? Then I realized it didn’t matter a lick. The man or woman, guilty or not, was going to get most of us whether he wanted to or not. I was getting more and more curious about what the next several hours would be like. The voice on the phone when I called on Wednesday informed me that I could bring a book or a tablet. My wife mentioned that I could be there a while doing a while lot of nothing so I brought along my current read. It’s a novel called, ironically, The Last Policeman, by a talented writer named Ben H. Winters. If you haven’t read anything he’s written I highly recommend a quick google you won’t be disappointed. I was also, honestly, getting more and more excited about the prospect of being on a jury. Would it be a high profile case? How long would the trial take? Who else would comprise the 11 other jurors? Would they elect me the foreman? Would we be sequestered? Hey, I told you I was romanticizing the entire process! Another person made his way inside in front of me. Two left before I too would be in the building.
And then, just like that, I was one body away. It was a young lady who was on her phone wrapping up a conversation with someone. “I hope I can get out of this,” I heard her say. Then another gentleman with an authoritative air and wraparound sunglasses approached and asked me for my summons. “Here we go,” I thought. He wrote down my juror number on a piece of paper. Then he pulled the paper off his clipboard and handed it to me.
“You’re excused,” he said and walked away.
So, right there in the bright, warm, Colorado morning sun, my dream of being just like Jimmy Stewart in 12 Angry Men died just six feet from the entrance to the courthouse. It looks like the scheduled colonoscopy is a go.