The dreaded day comes for all of us, usually sooner than expected. We spend our whole lives trying to escape it, but, alas, each of us must meet our match at some point. When people open up the mailbox and the white envelope with the big red letters is there, it makes most people roll their eyes in defeat. Your government has summoned you for jury duty.
I received my jury summons at the tender age of 18. I consider myself considerably civically engaged. I keep up with politics; I know most of the important people in government and read the news daily. When I got my jury summons, even I groaned at the simple and powerful papers, though. I’d heard the stories of long lines, miserable hours and slow days. Everyone told me I should try to get out of it immediately. I admit that I blindly followed the masses when forming my initial opinion on jury duty; even so, I postponed my duty for as long as the Orange County government website allowed.
However, jury duty gets a bad rap it simply doesn’t deserve. I understand missing a day of work or school is a pain, and the process of serving on a jury can be boring. I think this all comes from the wrong mindset. My experiences as a jury member taught me perspective is key to understanding and appreciating jury duty.
I met new and exciting people from all different backgrounds when I served on a jury. After living in Orange County for nearly 10 years, I was confident I knew the people of my community. Yet again, however, I was so wrong. These people were kind-hearted and smart, all in different ways. One of the women in my group was the most intelligent, free-spirited person I’d ever encountered, yet still set in her opinions. Another man was retired from a long and successful career. He was a humble, natural leader who gave off a sense of power. I was able to interact with these people and talk about serious issues with perfect strangers in a way that wouldn’t come up in any other scenario. I was able to hear the unfiltered thoughts and opinions of my neighbors in a refreshing and unique way. Hearing the intelligent and thoughtful opinions of my neighbors instilled in me a new sense of faith in my community.
I also learned about current events in my community I’d missed. I served on a case about a man who was run over and dragged 30 feet by a van and survived; he is actually doing surprisingly well. The jury was to determine how much money the van’s company owed the man. That’s the kind of thing you would only hear about on the news or in movies. Hearing this man testify in real life was, frankly, awesome. My point is that crazy things happen just around every corner, and we often miss them. Serving on jury duty gives you a first-hand taste of some of the action in your community.
The most important part of my experience was the fact that I learned the importance of serving as a juror. My decision to report for service changed a family’s life. We rewarded people over a million dollars. It is vital to serve as a juror because it is your job as a citizen. If I were run over by a van, I wouldn’t want a bunch of grumpy people on the jury who would sloppily put together a verdict. We need people to appreciate the importance of jurors in our civic system and to take their jobs seriously. If we can’t appreciate our duty as citizens of our country, at least we can understand our jobs as fellow humans. Jury duty provides the opportunity to help ensure justice is served.
Chasity Maynard is a UF journalism freshman. Her column normally appears on Fridays.