Someone's fate in my hands? No, thanks!

Last week, my kids and I were swimming and, as we usually do when we’re in the pool, listening to the radio. Our favorite afternoon DJ happened to be off the air that day, because he was at the courthouse for jury duty.  It brought up an interesting discussion between my oldest and myself.

He wanted to know if I had ever been on a jury. I explained that, thus far, I’ve never had jury duty (knock on wood). I once received a summons for federal jury duty, but was able to send in an explanation that as a single mother, with two kids that weren’t even school age yet, it just wasn’t feasible for me to go three hours away for jury duty and was excused.  I explained all that my son, and he then wanted to know if I wanted to serve on a jury.

I told him the truth: no, I really don’t. I get that, as a US citizen, it’s my duty. It is for all of us. But it’s not something I want to do. My reasons aren’t the stereotypical ones: not wanting to take off work, or being bored, or thinking it’s silly/stupid/boring/ridiculous, etc.

You see, as I explained to my son (who pointed out that I write books in which people commit crimes all the time), in my books, I’m playing with the lives of fake people. If I put someone in prison in my book, or I kill them, I can change my mind later, hit delete and make them innocent or bring them back to life.

Jury duty, however, is the fate of a real, living, breathing person. The idea of having the fate of a live human being in my hands like that is terrifying. I look at all the cases I’ve read about where someone was convicted while innocent, or vice versa and I wonder to myself how the people that were on the jury must feel when they learn that the verdict they gave was wrong. Yes, they made their verdict based on arguments, evidence, and following the rules of the court, so technically they did nothing wrong. But I can’t imagine that knowledge would make them feel better knowing that they’d sent an innocent to prison for ten, twenty, thirty years, or that the man that was just convicted of murdering someone wouldn’t have murdered that person if they’d found him guilty five years ago.

It’s something I’d prefer to never have to live with. There’s another case in my area – a few years ago, a teenage boy was killed in a horrifically brutal way, by several people. The day before yesterday, the last verdict came down in that case: the final person involved in the boy’s death was found guilty and the jury said, by a vote of 10 to 2, to give him the death penalty. He will actually be the youngest person on Death Row in my state, if the judge agrees with it.

I won’t lie – I think the decision was the right one. It’s been made clear that this person was definitely involved in the murder, and was in fact, responsible for much of what happened.  The way the murder was planned is sickening, and I don’t think the death penalty is too harsh. But even though I think they made the right decision, I would not want to be on that jury. Even knowing that he’s guilty, I’m just not sure I’d be able to live with the idea that I recommended that someone be killed.

I realize some people might find it odd that I can kill, kidnap and otherwise hurt people in my books, but don’t think I could handle being on a jury. Even I can admit that it does seem a bit silly. But there is a huge difference between doing these things to imaginary people that I can easily bring back to life, return to their homes, or release from a cell, and being responsible (even partially) for doing that to a real person.

I don’t think my son quite understood the whole thing. When I was done explaining, I asked if he had any more questions, and he shook his head, said “nope” and dunked his head and swam away. But he’s got a few more years before he even has to worry about jury duty, and if nothing else, at least it’s a start on helping him understand the gravity of being on a jury.

It counts.