Sitting just outside the jury box with 79 other randomly selected and inconvenienced souls was not my first, second, or third choice for how to spend a Monday morning, the day after the 5th Sunday after Epiphany (otherwise known as the day after the Superbowl). We were stunned into silence. The jury clerk said we were the quietest bunch she’d ever had. I was given a number—lucky 13.
We waited a couple of hours before entering the courtroom and engaging in the “Voir Dire” process. It felt like confession. If voir dire is not a part of your everyday vocabulary, it refers to the process by which the judge and lawyers narrow the pool of jurors. They interviewed each of the jurors about our backgrounds and beliefs. Unlike private confession, however, we did this individually in front of everyone. As often as I have listened to people confess their sins, I wanted to close my eyes in this instance as people revealed their secrets in front of an audience, without a chance for absolution. After each person took to the microphone and shared his or her name, age, occupation, family composition, hobbies, news sources, and several other personal details, the judge and lawyers proceeded to ask questions to determine anything that would prejudice a particular juror for the case. We were instructed to raise our hands if any of us could say yes to any of their questions and then they would probe further. For example: Have you ever been convicted of a crime? Would your religious beliefs prevent you from being fair or impartial? Is there anything we haven’t asked you that you think we should know? Would being selected as a juror for this case be a devastating hardship for you?
Despite my objections, they didn’t seem to think being a pastor and parent of three children under three years old disqualified me from service. The Monday morning voir dire stretched into Tuesday afternoon selections, and Tuesday afternoon stretched into five weeks of service for a federal criminal case. The circumstances that brought the defendants to court were complicated and I won’t bore you with all the details here, but I will say that I was stretched in positive and constructive ways. From learning about the criminal justice system, to deliberating with complete strangers, to realizing the import of our collective decision as a jury of peers, I am better for the experience. If summoned again, would I willingly serve? Absolutely…but hopefully I don’t get called again for a very, very long time! If you’re curious and want to learn more about my experience, let’s sit down for a cup of coffee and I’ll tell you. Thank you for your support and encouragement as I fulfilled my civic duty. I’m also so thankful for my husband and family who endured a challenging schedule.
God’s Peace, Pastor Stephanie