No Jury Duty

I dodged a…not a bullet, more like a slow-lobbed softball…today. I was a standby juror for the Cook County courtroom in Skokie today, but when I called in, only people with last names beginning H through S had to report.

I’m relieved. Somehow, this time it just seemed like a drag.

Although at least they’ve straightened out the cell phone situation, and all the juror materials spell out a consistent policy: The ban on electronic communications devices applies only to the Criminal Court at 26th and California, and even there it does not apply to jurors.

I guess the courts have finally realized that cell phones are not some newfangled court-business-disruption doohickey, but rather an important part of how everybody lives their lives, so it’s a bit extreme to deprive people of them for the convenience of the court. But I suspect what’s also happened is that cell phones are so useful that the courts just run more smoothly if all the court personnel and lawyers have them. And once you have so many phones permitted in the court — some of which are bound to ring at the wrong time — letting jurors and other participants have them doesn’t seem like a big deal anymore. They’re just another disruption.

Interestingly, the stated reason for having any cell-phone ban at all is because some people connected to criminal defendants were using them to snap photos of jurors, presumably in an attempt to intimidate them. Apparently it’s only a serious problem at the main criminal court building, because the ban has been suspended at all the other court buildings, and it doesn’t apply at all downtown because they don’t handle criminal cases there.

Anyway, I’ve usually been kind of excited about jury duty. I write a lot about legal issues, and jury duty is a good chance to see the system at work. Both times I served, I found it a fascinating experience. This time, though, I didn’t want to go. I just didn’t feel up to dealing with serious drama and arguing with people. (I know you lawyers read this and go, “What? Why? Isn’t that the best thing ever?”)

Last time I served on a criminal jury, I convicted a guy of a felony assault against a Melrose Park police officer, and rather than face the sentence, he fled. A few years later, the Melrose Park Police Department was hit with a scandal, involving a private security firm owned by Chief Vito Scalvo (now in federal prison) and staffed with on-duty officers (I have no idea whether the officer who testified was one of them). Local businesses had been pressured into hiring the firm.

All of which raises the question: If I had known the Melrose Park police department was filled with thieves and extortionists, would I have been as willing to believe the testimony of one of its officers? Which raises the bigger question: Did I fuck up a guy’s life on the word of a crooked cop?

I guess I’m glad I didn’t get picked at least in part because I just didn’t feel up to making perilous decisions about someone else’s freedom again.

One Response to No Jury Duty

  1. When I was younger – maybe 26 – I voted to find a man guilty on drugs and weapons charges. It was based on the testimony of two cops who said they saw the man throw something, and then found the bag of drugs where they had seen the thing be thrown. And then they said they found a gun on him.

    I regret now very much what I did. I still think about it rather often, and I feel guilt over having perpretrated injustice – the crime had no victim, and, in retrospect, the case was comprised of dubious evidence relying almost entirely on police testimony.

    I take some solace in the truth that I just didn’t know any better back then.

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