I had been eighteen for only a few months when I received my first jury duty summons in the mail. It was the summer before I came to Penn (2011), and there were only a few days before my plane ride from San Francisco to Philly. Naturally, I pushed back my appointment to the second day of my winter break in December. I initially dreaded the thought of having to drive to court in the midst of my first post-finals euphoria after returning home. But as the day grew closer, I was actually (much to the amusement of my parents and sister) getting excited about jury duty. Although most people dread it, jury duty is a distinct privilege – it is a guaranteed right of criminal defendants to stand trial before a jury of their peers. This privilege is not enjoyed by everyone in the world, and I was thinking that I was lucky to have been born in a country where this right existed.
So although it was indeed hard to get up at 8am after having been home for only a day from my first semester at Penn, I drove to Redwood City (a suburb to the south of San Francisco) and checked in. I ended up making it past every stage of the on-site selection process and within two hours found myself in front of the judge with about 25 others during a final evaluation of our capacities to make unbiased decisions. In short time, I was one of the thirteen people selected to be part of the trial (in California, there are twelve jurors and one alternate).
The trial itself was a civil case in which the County of San Mateo claimed that the defendant was mentally unstable and not fit to live by himself. The County wanted to assign him an official custodian. The details of the case weren’t so exciting, but the deliberation of the jury was. When it was time for deliberation, the bailiff informed us that the first step of the process was to select a foreman. As the youngest person in the room by far, I wasn’t sure if the others would want me as their foreman, but I volunteered first and no one had any objections. So I got to lead the discussion for about an hour, with my main objective being to keep everyone focused on specific evidence presented in the trial and not on their general sentiments about the situation at hand. In the end, although I was in the minority of three people who sided with the County, I was satisfied with the quality of our deliberation and knew that since only nine votes were required to deem the defendant fit for independent living, we had reached an outcome exactly according to the legal process.
When we returned to the courtroom, I got to stand up and walk to the front of the room to present the judge with our decision, which he immediately read. With the trial concluded, I returned home, and it wasn’t even 6pm. I was home in time for dinner and had spent my day as the foreman of a jury, which wasn’t a bad way to spend a lazy day over winter break!