Yesterday, I served one day, eight hours of Jury Duty service in Maria Greenwald Criminal Justice Court in Camden, New Jersey.
Somehow, I and the lady I met in the parking lot, Barbara, have been called up every 3 years of our adult lives. Many of the other people with whom I spoke, in particular April and Monique had the same experience. We concluded it was because we vote in every election and because we have driver's licenses and keep our registration in order. None of us wanted to serve. For most of us it was both an inconvenience and a physical ordeal.
Alice has degenerative hips, I have degenerative spine, so sitting for such long periods is painful for us. Barbara works for a small doctor's office and being away put a burden on the rest of the staff, the doctor, and the patients. I am sure everyone there had similar feelings and I could hear grumbling when we moved from place to place throughout the building.
By the way, Maria Greenwald was the first woman surrogate in Camden County, and there is a park named for her in Cherry Hill, too.
My other problem is eyesight, so I missed my turn off after route 130 and then the Admiral Wilson Boulevard, onto Martin Luther King Boulevard, and floundered a block or two until I found a crossing guard who helped me get back across a little highway bridge into Camden, then my memories of the basic layout helped me find MLK again. I went to college at Rutger's The State University for 2 or 3 years in the 1980's, and I was familiar with Cooper Street, MLK Boulevard, and Broadway, the main streets.
I found the parking lot and met Barbara during a brief downpour. I had seen a huge bank of black clouds over the Delaware as I was parking, but fortunately, my cluttered car always contains an umbrella or two, and hats, gloves, extra shoes, socks, and other necessaries. We took the shuttle to the Greenwald Court building and went to the room that housed the jury pool.
I had left an hour early, but having gotten lost, I got there just exactly on time, 8:15. The first jury room was already packed, no empty seats, and we were directed to room 2. We were told that juries were being picked for 5 cases, 14 people for each. First call was for 75 people and MOnique's number got called, next call was for 125 and Barbara's number was called I was one of the last to be called for the third panel for a criminal case.
I reported to jury room 56 and had Judge Schweitzer, presiding. I remember her name because of Albert Schweitzer. We all filled out a lengthy questioner and read two pages of instructions. Then we were called one at a time up to the judge, where the two lawyers were standing. I had answered two or three questions one of which was whether I had served on any other trials. I had served on two both of them traffic accidents. The judge asked if I thought justice had been properly served on both and I said on one it had, and on one not so much. She asked for details.
"On my second trial, a pretty young nurse had run a stop sign driving to an emergency for a diabetic. She had her two children in the car. She had hit broadside, and elderly woman on her way home from a bakery. The elderly woman had the right-of-way, on a large boulevard. It seemed clear to me that though the pretty nurse was doing a kind deed, she had broken the law by running the stop sign, but we had to distribute percentage of blame and responsibility. I thought the elderly woman had no blame, but there was a man who was charismatic and won the other jurors over to his side and finally, I had to capitulate as we had been there till 4:00 on a Friday and everyone wanted to go home.
The judge asked if I thought this would influence my participation, and I said that more so, would be the severe pain I experience with my back problem and sitting upright for hours a day, which would be distracting in the extreme. She excused me. The officer had told me that after the 14 are chosen and seated, the lawyers can excuse any juror they don't like and then the election goes on to replace that juror.
Needless to say I can't discuss the case I was called up for because we were instructed not to.
But, I had to report back to the jury pool in case I was needed for another case. I went outside for a breath of fresh air while we were on lunch break and met April We sat and talked for a time. She was in pain too, about my age, but with hip problems. As she was main babysitter for her daughters children it was a big problem for them. She was very nice, also a retired teacher. We noticed many tv trucks outside the building and wondered what was going on.
Back in the jury pool, I met up with Barbara and Monique, but Monique got called up again. Barbara and I sat there until 4:00! People were picked all around us even up to 3:30. I felt sorry for those people who slumped out of the room like the dead being condemned to purgatory.
When I got home, I called a friend and she told me the tv people were there because of a tabloid case where a man murdered his toddler son so he could stay with a teenage girlfriend he had been seeing after his divorce. The teenage girl didn't like that he had a little boy. He reported the boy missing but the child's body was found near Cooper River, and the father was the main suspect. All he had to do was give up custody, but I guess he was too bitter to give his wife the satisfaction, so he murdered that little child who loved and trusted him. Although, of course, innocent until proven guilty.
I am glad I didn't get on that case, or for that matter any case! I am going to ask my doctor's for notes when I have my next appointments in case I get called up again in 3 years! I am glad I have always done my duty, but I HATE jury duty! And I think I should have been able to opt out for age. I think if you can retire from everything else, you should be able to retire from jury duty when you have done your duty so many times and are older. Of course, we are just the people who probably make the best jurors, because of maturity, experience, and judgement.
Well, it is all over now and probably my last time doing it. My back was screaming at me by noon, by 3:30, I was in abject misery. Fortunately the jury pool room had better chairs. But that was just too many hours upright for my spine. I have desiccated disk disease and both a herniated disk and stenosis. That alone should get me out. My back doesn't hurt if I get on a recliner after half a day. It is hours upright that count.
The jury system is as old as ancient Greece but has its roots in ancient Germanic, Anglo Saxon tribal traditions whereby eight to a dozen villagers were chosen to investigate as well as to judge in a case. It even goes back to ancient Greece. What I thought was interesting when I did some research was that in the Middle Ages, in Glasgow Scotland, it was decided that dozen was too many for honest neutrality, and a number that could likely lead to being swayed by a charismatic member, and that seven was more likely to retain integrity of the members.
Now that I think of it, I bet the reason they kept us so long and had so much trouble filling that last jury, the one Monique got called for the 3rd time to, was they were filling the one for the father who killed the toddler. That would be a long long case, and a terrible one. My case would have been 3 days this week and 2 next week!
Life in Camden County!