Jury Service and Enduring Trials

October 8, 2014

After two postponements of my service for medical reasons, finally on October 1 I appeared at the county courthouse for jury duty. The long wait to be called into the courtroom was ameliorated by a pleasant, spacious jury assembly room and the discovery that a friend was also in my group. At 9:45 we were finally brought into the courtroom, “Department 8” to be exact, where we were given the standard civics lesson on the importance of jury service.

And then I found out that the trial for which a jury was being selected was a three-week criminal trial. Oh, no! I had cleared my calendar for three days, but not three weeks! The judge explained what circumstances constituted a hardship, and what did not, and my business trip next week did not pass muster. After all the preambles, and with high expectations that I would be dismissed simply because I am a pastor (assumed from previous experience), I still hoped I would be there only one day. Instead, the judge explained that my group was Group 3 of the jury pool, and the attorneys were still working on voir dire for Groups 1 and 2. Group 3 was instructed to come back the following Tuesday (yesterday, October 7).

Now things begin to get a little wacky in my mind: On the one hand I want to be part of our judicial system and do my civic duty. I don’t even mind dealing with the particular accusations to be evaluated in this trial (it sounds like it could get ugly). But what am I to do with my future plans, which must now be considered “on hold” until I am dismissed from this jury pool (still hopeful thinking)?

I returned to the courthouse yesterday after feeding a ten-hour parking meter with quarters. The hallway outside the courtroom was packed with people. We were told Groups 1, 2 and 3 were all here to continue the jury selection process. It was standing-room only, while the judge explained that Groups 1 and 2 still had not been screened completely, so Group 3 was instructed to go home and come back next Tuesday, October 14. I asked the clerk in the hallway if we would be informed if the selection were completed by the end of the day. She said yes, we would be called if that happened, but then added, “There’s no way, though. This jury selection process is not going well and will take forever. Your business trip next week is [toast].”

So this morning, after giving the court time to call me that they did not need me after all (hope springs eternal), I cancelled my trip to the Common Ground Christian Network meeting outside Atlanta next week. And I am left thinking, okay, could I have gotten out of this civic obligation some way?

The talk around me in the courthouse hallway included speculation about how one could get out of service. I was amazed at how often the option to lie about bias, hardship, or health was mentioned. I was surprised by the number of people who do not want to participate in the judicial system for one reason or another (inconvenience, sense of futility, disillusionment, or financial impacts). Some expressed concern about their employers’ reactions to their absence, even though penalties for jury service are illegal. My overall impression was that jury service never comes at a good time for anyone, it does involve sacrifice, and it seemed socially acceptable to do anything to avoid it.

Despite all this, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to get out of jury duty. I want to serve, because I think juries need pastors every once in awhile. Those of you who know me from BC days are aware that judicial process is fascinating (even when aggravating) to me. But aside from that, it is one simple opportunity to put up or shut up, as an American citizen.

Given the difficulties of finding a jury for the present case, the chances that I will be called are pretty slim. But eventually, those attorneys are going to run out of preemptory challenges and a jury pool, and twelve people are going to land in the jury box eventually. Will I be one of them? I still must wait a few days to find out.

In the meantime, I am trying to get my sermon done for October 19. The text is Hebrews 12:1-11, which includes verse 7: “Endure trials for the sake of discipline.” Double meaning aside, even this convoluted process can be used by God to help me learn something, to grow in my faith, to mature in discipleship, and to share in God’s holiness (vs. 10). Now that the hard part is done, cancelling my visit to Atlanta, I choose not to grit my teeth and grouse until the trial thing is over. I choose instead to act responsibly, honestly, and diligently, as difficult as that might become, simply because I am a Jesus-follower who welcomes a challenge as a teachable moment. And since I also believe that nothing is wasted in God’s economy, even this experience will be useful in the future.

Tomorrow: What if a trial attorney were to ask you, “Pastor, would you be willing to put aside your Christian faith in order to be a fair and impartial juror?”


6 Responses to “Jury Service and Enduring Trials”

  1. My initial reaction to the last line of your blog makes me think that would have to be the shortest blog ever. But I am anticipating seeing your blog tomorrow.

  2. Craig Campbell Says:

    I have been called twice–but both times I was out of the country with a mission. The first time, because of lack of mail and telephone, I did not know I had been called until after they started getting grumpy about my lack of response.

  3. Pam Says:

    That’s question I was asked by the attorney for the defendant and by the prosecutor. Answer, ” My faith is integral to all of my being.” However, both sides had run out of challenges, the judge smiled and I was on. Four days later, before the trial began, there was a plea bargain. Yep, it always comes at an inconvenient time but we go, and apply those civics lessons with grace.

  4. Jodie Says:

    That’s a weird question. I suppose I would reply “Gee, I don’t know. Do you think the judge would be willing to get naked in order to be a fair and impartial judge?” I mean, it’s a total non-sequitur.

    I always thought that a case was tried after the jury was put in place. What I learned about the jury selection process is that the moment the lawyers open their mouths, the game is on. I am surprised most trials aren’t declared miss-trials before they even start.

  5. A police chaplain Says:

    An easy out of criminal cases. When I’m asked about my employment I answer “I’m a Presbyterian Minister and a police chaplain.” Usually the attorney and several times the judge have given me a surprised look. I can usually anticipate the very next question: “A police chaplain? Could you fairly and honestly evaluate a police officer’s testimony without giving it undue credence?” When I reply, “I think I can. I would certainly hope so.” I’m off the jury. So far it has never failed in three times.

  6. Randolf M. Tamarind Says:

    Several times called but never seated. The last time I was called one of the lawyers offered an interpretation of a Scripture passage, then asked me if it was correct. I answered with a firm, “No.” because it wasn’t. The rest of the jury pool laughed, so I knew I would not make the cut.

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