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Tamara Keith: My Stint as Juror #7

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When Duty Calls: My Stint as Juror #7

By Tamara Keith, Public Affairs
Posted March 31, 1999

Photo: Tamara Keith

Tamara Keith

In early February I found in my mailbox something that virtually everyone dreads -- a summons for jury duty. This red, white and blue envelope came as a surprise, since I only registered to vote about a year and a half ago. All my life I've heard horror stories about jury duty, so even before I opened the mailer, I was determined to get myself dismissed.

After reading the section on exemptions thoroughly, I realized that finding a way out of serving wasn't going to be easy. I wasn't on probation; I still lived in Alameda County; I had been a U.S. citizen all my life. I resigned myself to appear as requested, figuring I'd be dismissed when they found out I'm a reporter and a philosophy major.

On my day in court, I signed the juror check-in sheet promptly at 9 a.m. -- and then waited for two hours in a stuffy room before being herded into the courtroom. Among us, 24 were randomly selected to be grilled by a judge and two attorneys. The rest of us sat in the audience planning our own answers.

By around 3:30 p.m., so many prospective jurors had been dismissed that the court had to draw new people from the jury pool. I was one of them. When it was my turn to talk, I quickly realized I wasn't controversial enough to be dismissed: I believed in the constitution, didn't have a sleeping disorder, hadn't had a bad experience with the police and had never seen the defendant or any of the witnesses before. The court didn't care about my trade and apparently didn't know that philosophy involves a whole lot of skepticism.

The next day I became juror number seven. The case was criminal but the charges were minor and no one, including the district attorney, seemed to take them seriously. The defendant, a Cal grad, was accused of battery, disturbing the peace, and using language intended to incite violence -- all misdemeanors.

After the first day of testimony, I thought I had the whole case figured out. But then more witnesses came to the stand and the truth became a matter of one man's word against another's. As we filed into the jury quarters to deliberate, I had no clue how to rule on any of the charges. After carefully toiling for four hours over each count and dissecting the judge's instructions as if they were a great work of philosophy, we came to a decision: guilty on the first count, innocent on the other two.

Yesterday I got a check in the mail for $15.90 from the Berkeley-Albany Municipal Court. You could call it a paycheck for the time I spent doing my civic duty as a juror. Five dollars a day, plus 90 cents for mileage -- not exactly a living wage, but the work I performed to earn it, in the end, was pretty rewarding.

Tamara Keith is a senior majoring in philosophy.


March 31 - April 6, 1999 (Volume 27, Number 28)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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