3 Lessons from Jury Duty

Or: A-fluency Is No Excuse

So, in case you haven’t seen it yet on Facebook or Twitter, I have the dubious honor of immersing myself in a jury pool this week.

Honor, because the judge who talked to us yesterday morning reminded us of a lot of horrid yet truly magnificent things that happened in history to bring us to the point of having a voice in judicial proceedings. Her Honor made excellent arguments.

Dubious, however, because accepting this (required) honor means that today, I get to visit juvenile court for the first time ever and observe a lot of sad, frustrating, depressing stuff that I can’t do a whole lot to change.

: (

But Back to the Positive What-Nots

Also, in case you don’t already know this about me: I grew up in Germany and traversed the German school system from Kindergarten all the way through Gymnasium (which has nothing to do with sports). Thus, I’ve had little to nil exposure to the ins and outs of the American judicial system.

Several things I learned yesterday came as quite a surprise to me. Or, if they weren’t surprising, they were at least contrary to my expectations. Let me show you them!

3 Lessons from Jury Duty

1. The court selects its jury pool from Department of Motor Vehicle records — not from voter registration or homeowner records, as I thought it did.

2. In a room full of 200 strangers, it’s rather inappropriate to voice your opinion that “all Middle-Easterners are inbred, and we should just let them all kill each other.” (The voicer of said opinion was a 60-something white man who, I gathered from his conversation, hasn’t spent a whole lot of time observing any Easterners, Middle or otherwise.)

3. Even if you don’t speak English, they will not send you home. Instead, you get to sit there with the rest of us until someone figures out whether or not you’re really a U.S. citizen.

Jury Duty Is Story Fodder

Might I use the information from #1 in a future story? Maybe. I have no particular plans to write a courtroom novel…but could I use my newfound knowledge to add a hint of detail for the judicial system of a high fantasy epic. Yes, yes I could. (The benevolent ruling class draws its tribunal members from the Department of Wooden Chariots. Or somesuch.)

The…um…”gentleman” of the questionable ethics strong opinions shall one day find himself a character in a story. I don’t believe I can do him the honor of turning him into a villain — but he qualifies quite well as an unlikable side character.

And how would it feel to walk into a government building and face a crowd of 200 people who can all communicate (what seems) perfectly with each other — and all you can say are their words for affirmative and negative? What would it be to climb the stairs to that room, knowing that this impossible situation is waiting for you? Would you take a deep breath and hold it before you step into the room? Would your hands shake as you approach the bench? Would your voice shake as you grope for the words to explain your situation to the clerk? As you turn from the bench, would your face feel hot as you meet 200 pairs of curious eyes?

I’m gripey about having jury duty right when I’m trying to pack up my household to move…but really, I can’t complain. I’m getting the chance at a new set of experiences, which is always always beneficial for a writer. And, in spite of my introvert preferences, I do relish the interaction with representatives from so many different segments of society. They’re fun to watch, fascinating to listen to, and, in several cases, fun to talk with.

I memorize their faces, their voices, their mannerisms — and I’ll remember them when I write and write and write.

Have you served in a jury pool or on a jury? What’s your favorite tidbit to share?

And what about people-watching in general — where’s your favorite place to do that? What are some of your more memorable observations?

Have any of those real people turned into story people? Do tell!