Jury duty just isn't that bad
For most people who receive a jury duty summons in the mail, the reaction is similar. There’s an immediate rolling of the eyes or some sort of deep sigh or whatever audible expression of grief the recipient of the letter finds appropriate in that moment.
I did the exact same thing when I received the notice. I looked up and said out loud to nobody in particular, “How am I going to find time to do this?”
Yet knowing that showing up on Oct. 5 was my civic duty, I figured I would just try to make the best of it.
But my experience revealed something you rarely hear about jury duty, which is that not only is it not that bad, it’s actually interesting and pleasant.
The Buncombe County Courthouse, located just off of College Street on the east side of downtown Asheville, is on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.
The county commission turned to the firm of Milburn, Heister & Company to design the building in December 1926. The firm’s founder, Frank Pierce Milburn, had passed away just months before and his son, Thomas Y. Milburn, took over the firm. Two years later the building was complete and much of the inside of the original structure looks as though it’s frozen in time.
However, as I approached the new court building, which adjoins the the old one, at around 8:30 a.m. I couldn't stop thinking, “I sure do hope they have coffee and wi-fi in there.”
And they had both.
As a matter of fact, the 50-60 people that were called to the courthouse for jury duty that day were all greeted by the friendly face and voice of Buncombe County jury clerk, Dianne Jamerson, who also let us know that coffee was available in the adjacent kitchen of the jury suite.
The wi-fi passcode was front and center for all to see, right under the giant flat screen TV, which was tuned into HGTV. I was so impressed I tweeted that jury duty was a lot like spending a Saturday at my house.
Although it wasn’t exactly like a weekend at home, it was really comfortable. We were dismissed for lunch at 11:30 a.m. when it became clear we would not be called to the courtroom before noon.
I used the extended lunch break to explore downtown Asheville. And its tacos.
We were called to the courtroom a little after 3 p.m. where we were briefed on the trial by the judge. We were told that we would be seated in groups of 12 and asked questions by attorneys from both sides. I was in the first group called to the jury box.
After 13 (12 juror and one alternate) of us were selected, we were instructed to return the next day for the trial. The trial got underway around 10 a.m and the prosecution wrapped up before lunch. The defense did not present a case, and we returned to deliberate around 2 p.m.
While television court dramas rely heavily on tense interactions to entertain viewers, our deliberation was smooth. We all had similar interpretations of the evidence presented. We reached a verdict in under 30 minutes.
After our verdict was read, more than half of us returned to the courtroom to witness sentencing. As we exited the courthouse, having fulfilled our civic duty for at least two years, we all agreed on another point - our justice system offers those accused of a crime the opportunity for a trial to be decided by a jury of their peers. Going to the courthouse every now and then to hold up your end of the bargain is a really small price to pay.