When I opened the jury duty summons, I cringed. I recalled times I’d been summoned to just wait around for days, or answer personal questions in front of strangers.
I arrived on July 3, as work colleagues enjoyed a day off. In the courtroom, a young man sat stoically next to his young public defender. And I was struck by the weight of this task to decide someone’s freedom. But I knew that I could weigh facts and come to a reasoned conclusion. Soon, I joined 11 other men and women in the jury box. We were young and old, and many races. Some were retired; several had high-powered jobs.
After days of testimony, we gathered in the jury room. The case was complicated, and we carefully reviewed the judge’s instructions. It was stressful but there was tremendous goodwill. One juror, an ER doctor, baked cookies. We were almost unanimous in finding the defendant not guilty on four charges: Almost, because one person vehemently disagreed. I couldn’t understand why he came to a different conclusion. We made reasoned appeals. It was frustrating but the next day, we voted again. On two charges, we voted unanimously not guilty. Our careful conversations had shifted this person’s views. We wished the defendant well, then scattered.
I was proud that people plucked from busy lives and thrown together to determine the fate of a stranger could be so thoughtful. I know people groan when they get their summons, and try to shirk what feels like a huge imposition. For me, as the country was celebrating its birth, it was the most patriotic act that I could undertake.
With a Perspective, I’m Stephanie Rapp.
Stephanie Rapp works in philanthropy in San Francisco.