Civic Duty


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I was summoned for jury duty earlier in the month, and the experience taught me a couple of random things:

First, jurors get paid diddly squat. For my two and half days I received from the great state of Alabama a whopping $33 — $10 a day plus $1 a day mileage (5 cents a mile).

Second, there’s a lot of crime going on out there. This particular week, in my county alone, were more than 200 criminal and civil cases on the courts’ dockets. Not only that, but of the panel of 30 that I was assigned to, more than half of us had been a victim of some sort of crime, ranging from home burglaries and theft, to muggings and automobile break-ins. That’s a lot of crime. People should stop committing crimes, ya know.

Another thing: innocent until proven guilty is a weighty thing. In the case for which I was selected (Note: the case wasn’t actually tried; a mistrial was declared, for reasons unbeknownst to me, shortly after opening arguments), a person was accused of stealing money from the retail store where they worked, by making up fraudulent returns and pocketing the money themselves. The alleged proof of this was the store’s inventory records that showed returns were made but showed that the items returned were never re-entered into inventory.

On the one hand, it seems cut and dry. The merchandise is missing, maybe it’s missing because someone made up fraudulent returns. Maybe. Or, as the defense suggested, maybe the inventory records aren’t well kept and discrepancies in the system don’t necessarily mean the items aren’t or were never there. Or, maybe the inventory really is missing but the person accused isn’t the one who was doing it. Maybe the manager had it out for the employee and set them up to take the fall and it was really the manager all along.

Can you tell I watch too much Law & Order?

Well, holes like that could be poked in both sides of the case. Maybe the person really did steal, like the prosecutor said, and they’re using any defense they can to avoid punishment. If the case had moved forward, we jurors would have had to sort all that out. So I said all of that to say this: being a juror is a HUGE responsibility and not to be taken lightly. The decision we were to make was HUGE — life changing — for the person accused.

If we found the person guilty, a guilty verdict would affect their finances as they’d most likely have to pay the money back to the store, and it might affect their future career, to have a conviction like that on public record. If we didn’t find the person guilty, then maybe it allows them to be hired again in the future and to steal again, and then, of course, the store is out the inventory and the money that was allegedly taken, so the decision affects the store too.

After all of those possibilities, I’m kinda glad it went to mistrial because discerning things like truth in a sea of doubt, reasonable or otherwise, is tough business, perhaps tougher than this girl wants to crack.

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