All Rise: My Experience As a Juror

Let’s get one thing out of the way quickly: I have repeatedly said in the past few years that I wanted jury duty.

An excerpt from an old blog post of mine:

Whenever I said this to anyone, I was usually met with the following reactions (or some variation of them):

“What? Why would anyone WANT jury duty?”

“You’re so weird.”

“Most people try to get out of it, and you WANT it?”

And I’m here today to tell you: I was wrong.

I didn’t want jury duty.

I wanted to be a juror.

I was mailed a summons for Federal jury duty in early July and instructed to call after 5pm on Friday, July 6 to see if I was due to report to Brooklyn, NY that Monday morning. I may be the first person in history who’s ever grabbed their phone at a cocktail hour at a wedding to check an 800-number to see if they had to report for jury duty after the weekend, but what can I say? I was anxious and needed to know.

After calling the number and finding out I was due in court at 8:30am on July 9, I was ecstatic. I walked around the cocktail hour following my cousin’s nuptials and bragged to everyone like I just won the lottery. But in my mind? I did. Family members of mine quickly reminded me: jury duty isn’t fun, Allison. You’re going to be sitting in a boring, quiet room ALL DAY, nothing’s going to happen, you can’t do anything, you won’t be able to have your phone, and you likely won’t find yourself being called as a juror for an actual trial. The odds of that are low.

Me: “Wait, you said they’re gonna take my phone?”

And here’s the thing: everyone was right. JURY DUTY…sucks. The actual process of traveling to Brooklyn, entering a huge room with hundreds of other miserable-looking humans who aren’t speaking and don’t have cell phones to distract them is pure misery. Luckily? I only did that for about an hour.

Long story short: my name was chosen from the large pool of people to head to a courtroom where a judge and several attorneys needed to “staff” 12 jurors for their upcoming criminal trial.

Yeah, you heard me…criminal.

Real deal stuff. NOT mail fraud, not a speeding ticket, not someone spilling hot coffee on themselves and suing Starbucks, not anything petty or silly or minor.

My juror boner grew ten sizes as the day went on and I realized I was close — VERY VERY close — to getting selected for this. I watched person after person get dismissed for a myriad of excuses: I am going on vacation next week and can’t serve, my dad’s a cop and I think I’d be biased, I don’t speak or understand English very well, I have a knee replacement and can’t sit for long periods of time.

I heard it all.

And every single person that walked out of that courtroom made the number of people INSIDE even more significant: and eventually, as you now know…I was selected as a juror.

It was what I wanted, and I was actually getting the chance.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been intrigued — even at times borderline obsessed — with the criminal justice system. I watch and listen to everything from Dateline to Law & Order SVU (I have an “Elite Squad” shirt, for christ’s sake) to Netflix documentaries about real cases & trials to podcasts like Serial and “Dirty John.” If I wasn’t lazy and allergic to school, there’s a chance that I would go back and study law in some degree because I have ALWAYS been interested in it. In fact, I’ve been told on multiple occasions, “you should be a lawyer” and if I’m being honest, sometimes it was a compliment… but sometimes it was not.

That said, I wanted to see this process for myself. I wanted to stop watching it on my television and actually be a part of it. I do NOT take it lightly — in fact, I take it extremely seriously — but I’m the kind of juror you want on your case. I’m fair, I’m educated, I don’t hold any particular biases, and my independent, um, research — means in a lot of ways, I know how this shit works.

I can’t and won’t go into every detail of my case here, but I want to say this:

The experience of serving as a juror in a Federal/criminal case was one of the most challenging, stressful, intense, exhilarating and rewarding experiences of my life. There were days where so much was taken out of me; I literally had to come home and space out. I thought about the case often and mulled over every fact, piece of evidence and testimony I heard that day. I got to know 15 other people (there were 12 jurors but 4 alternates) and spent an entire week eating meals with them, commuting on the subway with some, making small talk — can’t talk about the case until it’s time to deliberate! — and getting to know them. Trust me, you form a bond with people when you’re deciding someone’s fate and want to get it right. It’s no small feat. I missed an entire week of work and wasn’t even able to check emails on my phone since it was locked up in the federal courthouse all day. I was disconnected from society and spent entire days focusing on nothing but the trial.

A trial I could not discuss with ANYONE. And I didn’t.

My time as a juror has come to an end, and it’s honestly bittersweet. On one hand, it wasn’t exactly a trip to Disneyland and it certainly wasn’t fun — but on the other, I’ve invested a lot of my time and energy on something and now? It’s just…over. That’s it. Back to my normal routine and my normal job and my normal cell-phone-using life.

I want to say to anyone who might have the chance to serve like I did: go in with the right attitude. Take it seriously. Learn something from it. Appreciate the opportunity to serve your country knowing that this is your civic duty, and people’s lives and futures are on the line.

It’s honestly an experience I won’t ever forget.

reporting for duty

Sometimes writer. Born & raised New Yorker. Wannabe photographer. Social media junkie. Pop culture guru. Habitual line stepper.