I was sitting at a restaurant with my coworkers when I received the dreaded news from my mom via text: I had been summoned for jury duty. My first thought was how do I get out of jury duty? I read through the summons over and over, trying to find a way out. In failing to do so, I gave a second thought to my obligation. I considered all the positive things about committing a week of my life to serving my country and ended up coming away feeling fulfilled. This is why I love jury duty (and spending it in one of my favorite Wisconsin towns, Port Washington)!
Some Good Things About Jury Duty:
- Jurors chosen for the trial do receive compensation, which is small, but better than nothing.
- Working on jury duty gives the eyes a nice break from staring at computer screens all day.
- The courthouse may be in a cool town to explore after “work” (Port Washington for me)!
- Serving on a jury offers a new way to participate in democracy beyond voting.
What Happens During Jury Duty?
Thankfully for those who live in less-populated counties, being on-call for a week of jury duty rarely means you will end up having to serve the entire time. I was only required to show up on Thursday and I think that one full day of service was just the right amount of time for my first jury duty experience. While we were given permission by the judge to discuss the case we oversaw after the verdict was delivered, I’ll spare those details for the sake of focusing on what I loved about my jury duty experience instead.
On the first day of jury duty, all scheduled jurors report to the courthouse. There, they are given a brief overview of what the day or week will look like and may watch a short video with more information. While many potential jurors will be present at the start of the day, only twelve will be selected to serve on the jury. When the court is ready, the potential jurors will be invited in and asked questions by both the prosecution and defense, who can each have a certain number of jurors removed. This could be due to a bias the juror might have in the case that prevents them from being impartial. The trial begins once the twelve jurors are selected. I made the cut!
There is a standard process for how a court case proceeds that includes opening statements, witness testimony, arguments and rebuttals, and closing statements. Following “where in the trial” you are is less important than listening the entire time. Make sure you don’t tune out by the time the second side starts to make their case, as you need to hear both arguments in full to make an informed decision. I recommend having a snack with carbs and protein right before going in to help you stay focused, as food is not allowed in the courtroom.
After all statements have been made, the jury goes into a separate room to deliberate. There is no time limit for how long a jury can deliberate; the discussion can go well into the evening or even span multiple days. This is not the time to debate policy, but to enforce it. While this might open your eyes to policies you think need to change, wait until after jury duty to take action. Most importantly, remember that people are innocent until proven guilty, so a guilty verdict should not be delivered unless there is indisputable proof.
Once a verdict is reached (and there may be multiple if there are multiple counts), the jury will select a foreperson to deliver the verdict (yours truly) and notify an attendant that they are ready. When everyone returns to the courtroom, the foreperson hands the verdict(s) to the judge to read aloud and the trial (or this stage of the trial) concludes. The judge will give the jury information about whether they can share information about the case with others and will thank you for your time.
Why I Love Jury Duty
I enjoyed watching a courtroom proceeding for the first time, but it was not until the jury went back to deliberate that I truly came to love the experience. The other jurors consisted of people from across the county that I may never have otherwise talked to. They varied in age, background, and personality, and I only wish I had more time to speak with them!
We deliberated for about two hours. Though both Democrats and Republicans were likely in the room, there was no partisanship. Deliberation is not to debate the laws, but to interpret them as they exist. It was so wild to see how the policies we support and oppose are actually applied in real life. After listening to both sides, I felt strongly that a certain verdict was correct and truly realized the power the twelve of us had to influence a complete stranger’s future. To ensure I got the full experience, I also volunteered to be the foreperson once we reached our verdicts and deliver them to the judge.
There are very few (if any) spaces outside of jury duty where we can have intellectual, nonpartisan conversations amongst strangers with absolutely no distraction from technology. It was one of the most meaningful conversations in my life to date and reminded me of the value each person has to offer. So often we engage with others on a surface level without really asking questions to get to know them. We do this because it is convenient, but I now strive to ask deeper questions that often come with a greater reward.
If you are selected for jury duty, please don’t be scared. Everyone working at the courthouse knows that you have probably never done this before and they do a great job of guiding you through the process. You are not on trial here, so just embrace your opportunity to listen to and learn from the trial as it happens. Potential jurors will be questioned during jury selection, but all questions will be about yourself and thus easy to answer honestly. This is your chance to really participate in the American judiciary – take it! You never know when you will get another chance to do so. I promise that this will make you feel proud as heck to be an American, too.
Why I Love Port Washington, Wisconsin
I lived in Ozaukee County at the time of my summons, which is why I appeared for jury duty at the Ozaukee County courthouse in Port Washington, Wisconsin. Now that I live in Milwaukee, any summons I receive would be for the Milwaukee County courthouse downtown. Though I never lived in Port Washington, I have always considered it one of my favorite small towns in Wisconsin. Located under an hour north of Milwaukee, this harbor town instantly transports you to New England. It reminds me of Maine or Massachusetts!
Naturally, the harbor is Port Washington’s main attraction, so you will want to make sure to check it out if you visit. In fact, a day trip to Port Washington is best spent outside! There are lots of sidewalks and parks that make the lake very accessible. During my lunch break on the day of my summons, I parked my car downtown and went for a scenic walk. There are also many cute shops and restaurants to stop at right next to the water if you have the time!
If you visit in the summer or fall, I also recommend driving a few miles farther north after exploring the town to visit Harrington Beach State Park. There is a great beach, beautiful quarry lake, and lots of trails to explore. I had the chance to visit on a group hike with Women Hiking Wisconsin and hope to return again soon. What is your favorite thing to do in Port Washington?