Life In Our Mountain Town: Ways not to get out of jury duty service
Since a friend of mine got called to jury duty last week, it has prompted me to think about all of my jury duty experiences.
Jury duty shouldn’t be so dreaded, but for some of us it is. The reason is not that it always comes at an inconvenient time, which it does. It has more to do with the fact that I always get picked to sit on the jury.
I make a lot of mistakes when I go for jury selection. Just sitting there I must give off the impression that I look even-tempered or sound minded or reasonable, traits that you would normally be proud to claim.
When it’s my turn, I stand up and give my name, and then I answer a few questions such as, “No, no one in my family has ever been killed by a drunk driver,” or “No, I do not personally know the defendant.” I’m always thinking to myself, “Darn!”
You would think in a small town, chances would be good that you know the defendant, but I never seem to have such luck. Of course everyone sitting all around me seems to know someone. If they don’t know the defendant, then they know the arresting officer. Or they just plain know the system so they stand up and put on an angry display of bigotry.
I always sit there with mixed feelings of resentment, knowing this guy’s angry display just improves my chances of being put on the jury – and envy because I wish I could act so ridiculous in public. But that kind of thing just doesn’t come naturally to me. It always turns out that everyone in the room but a handful of us either have excuses or they get excused for one reason or another.
The judge has very little sympathy for moms who have to drive across town to find special day care for their young children even when they are pleading their case with a belly that appears to be about eight months pregnant. I’ve watched as women plead this particular hardship thinking it’s fairly valid, and then the judge, who is just glad for one more body who went to the trouble to find a babysitter and made it to the courthouse, shakes his head and tells the mother to remain seated. After watching that scenario several times I have always decided to not plead that one myself.
I may be wrong, but it seems to me that just about every case tried locally is for drunk driving.
The last jury I sat on lasted four days. We deliberated until 8:30 in the evening. When I got called back just one year later I couldn’t believe it. Luckily, I telephoned the night before to see whether I had to show up or not, and the trial was suspended so I was off the hook. That is, until the next notice comes in the mail.
The only thing worse than being picked to serve on a jury is being picked as an alternate juror. This too has happened to me. You have to sit through the whole thing, and then you don’t get to have any input toward the verdict.
Since I live in Placer County, but own a rental house within the town of Truckee limits, I get called for all kinds of jury duty appearances. I actually have ignored two summons to appear in Nevada County court.
The problem for me is that the choices that you are given allowing you to not appear never apply to me. It usually says something on the back of the summons such as “You must appear unless you are a convicted felon, or in jail.” Then, if you read the fine print the summons goes on to tell you that if your primary residence is not in Nevada County, please send a copy of your property tax bill from the other county. Well, this is a lot of trouble for me to go to, in my opinion. First, I have to find my property tax bill. Then I would have to go downtown and have it copied, and then send it in. I’ve been thinking that I had better get prepared to go through with this the next time I get a Nevada County summons, so that Judge Holmer doesn’t start to think that I am a total flake or worse, a jury-ditching citizen.
The truth is, I do show up when the summons is for the county in which I live, and then as I’ve already told you, I always get picked. When I move at the end of the year, I will live in unincorporated Nevada County, which will require me to drive to Nevada City for jury duty. I guess I had better quit complaining.
Katie Shaffer has lived in Truckee since 1981.
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