Believe it or not, I have been called for jury duty. I have to report by 8:15am tomorrow morning. The last time I was called was April 2008. In 2008 I had been licensed to practice law for nearly 6 years so I had no expectation to last more than a few hours because, when the attorneys on the case learned I was an attorney too, I fully expected them to disqualify me. Much to my surprise, I was not rejected but invited to serve on a jury in Philadelphia! My service was to observe and issue a verdict on a personal injury case.
I do not have much interaction with juries and, to be perfectly straight forward, I never had a whole lot of faith in the average person making legal decisions, sometimes as profound as life and death. I have to admit, though, that my lack of faith was entirely without warrant. I was surprised to see that though the jury I sat on was a relatively normal cross-section of the people of the great City of Philadelphia, the folks I met on that jury all took their role on the jury seriously and truly considered the information and evidence presented. Indeed, I have to say, that the folks on the jury I served on where much more perceptive than I was in many ways. I spent my time trying to “issue spot” (which is lawyer-speak for discerning the legal issues at play in a given situation) while many on the jury took a very practical approach and were able to discern very real and insightful things about the people testifying, things which I was probably not perceptive enough myself to notice. Of course, when they pointed these things out the became obvious to me, but it took the other members of jury to do it for me. So, suffice it to say, the members of the jury truly came together from their varied backgrounds and views and perceptions and were able to develop a picture of the case that I believe was accurate and credible.
I have to say that my experience on a jury has given me confidence to say that while mistakes are sometimes made – it cannot be helped with a bunch of imperfect humans – the jury process is reliable and, I would say, can, for the most part, be trusted to give us the best decisions possible in a given case. A trial by jury has survived and been honed for centuries for a reason and we should be grateful that the Founders of the United States were wise to keep the tradition of trials by jury alive and well in this country.
So, I am excited to see what jury duty will have in store for me tomorrow. The odds are I will not be selected on account of being a lawyer, but that is what I said in April 2008 and I still go selected, so anything is possible!