Serving time has never been so enjoyable.Of course, I’m talking about jury duty. For some people, those are their two most feared words.
The selection process and the serving time take them out of work. Some people, like those self-employed, have to financially
suffer. Others who are self-unemployed, like myself, don’t mind it too much.
Explaining their hardship, some citizens are automatically exempted, but should students be among them?
“No. You are an adult and should do adult-like activities,” said junior marketing major Latisha Brinson. “People have to miss their days of work so [missing school] is the same thing.”
“I have no problem with jury duty,” said freshman criminal justice major Alec Loftus. “If I could do it. I would.”
For those who have teachers that cover a century’s worth of material in one day, you’re in luck. Students in Philadelphia County can postpone their duty to the summer or get a three-year exemption by requesting it in the remark section. That’s exactly what senior marketing major Gaby Palbo did when she got summoned while taking summer courses.
“That’s why we send out the questionnaire six weeks in advance,” said Micheal Ditietro, a clerical assistance at the Criminal Justice Center, located at 1301 Filbert St.
“We don’t know who is a student and who’s not. “They come in the morning of their summons and they’re a student. Once you’re in the system it’s too late,” Ditietro added. Honestly, I don’t understand why people dread it so much. It is such an unforgettable experience. You get to look at a stranger in the eye, hear their story and judge them. There are also so many perks to being a juror.
From the day a citizen is summoned, he or she is offered breakfast in the morning, compensated $9 for the first three days and $25 every day after that, receives a $2 parking discount and also saves 10 percent on lunch at certain stands at Reading Terminal.
The best gift of all is getting a certificate and a letter in the mail from the judge thanking you for performing your civic duty. I was first summoned a week before the fall semester started. I left my house with excitement and a copy of “The Catcher in the Rye,” which came in handy.
When I arrived at the courtroom, they took my cell phone in exchange for a banana and a cup of coffee. They went well with the lengthy survey, which offered questions like the following: Have I ever been robbed? Well, when I was in the second grade, someone stole my pencils and sharpener right out of my desk.
Do I have a grudge against anyone in law enforcement? The police officers who came in to my fourth-grade class laughed at my last name.
Do I know someone who has been a victim
of a crime? I seriously thought that everyone in Philadelphia has been a victim at some point in time. Still, I circled “No” to every question for the lack of anything significant that would create
bias. Soon enough, a woman called out a list of names to be taken upstairs to a courtroom. I was lucky No. 3.
Sitting on hard benches, I and 44 others watched a film on how to fill out the survey, which everyone had already done about half an hour before. To entertain myself for the next two hours, I assigned everyone a name, since we couldn’t learn each other’s names and were referred to only by numbers. As I did, I noticed a few things.
I was the only Asian and there were only six others who were about my age, and they were all female. Once I gave everyone a name, I opened my book, continuing the crazy adventure of Holden Caulfield.
“How come homeless people don’t serve?” I heard someone behind me ask. I called her Rita, because her voice was cold as water ice. She complained about everything from her legs hurting from sitting too long to how she was wasting her SEPTA tokens.
The judge finally invited the 45 people into his courtroom. In there stood the two attorneys and the defendant.
The judge began interviewing everyone. He mostly asked people to explain the answers they gave on their surveys. Once he started asking people to discuss what was preventing them from being a juror, things got crazy. My favorite response came from a woman I referred to as April. She informed the judge that she gets drowsy after sitting for a long period of time. She then informed him that she worked for SEPTA.
Confused, he said that the longest she would sit would be only one hour and asked what the difference was between sitting at work and sitting in a courtroom.
“Here, I’m just sitting,” April said. After four hours, the two lawyers passed a clipboard back and fourth, writing down who they wanted as jurors. For our enjoyment, the court crier began humming the Jeopardy theme song. Soon after, he called out 14 people.
From that point on I, potential juror No. 3, was now known as juror No. 1. The judge explained that the man sitting
before us, Randy, was an employee from Friends Hospital, accused of sexually assaulting a mentally challenged and suicidal female patient. But he looked so sweet and innocent.
Being the huge “Law and Order: SVU” fan that I am, I couldn’t wait to hear the trial the next day. Randy had his minister and a former employer come to the witness stand. They praised him and said he was a wonderful father and husband who was always helping others. I thought to myself, what do they know about him when he’s not in church or at work?
The girl was 16 years old (the same age as my sister) and was a student at Hallahan High. She was tall and sickly thin. Her eyes were focused on her lawyer or on the ceiling the entire time. The responses she gave were full of confidence as though she had rehearsed it many times before, but she often said “I don’t remember.”
Her aunt also testified. She broke into tears as she told everyone in the courtroom what Randy did to her niece, how depressed her niece was and how she hated Friends Hospital.
Was it only one incident? In the beginning, the victim said Randy came into her room on one occasion. Later, she said he made physical contact with her three nights in a row. I really didn’t know who to believe or what side to take. There was something really wrong here. No other employee from Friends Hospital came forward to testify, which raised serious questions in the mind of a juror.
After we deliberated, we crossed our fingers and hoped we made the right decision. Due to the lack of evidence and the victim’s condition, Randy was acquitted.
Anne Ha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.