Jury duty can be a legal eye-opener

Tuesday, June 25, 2024
Clayton Hayes is a lifelong resident of Dyer County.

I’m thumbing through my daily snail mail. Up pops an envelope from one of our legal courts.

Someone is looking for me, but who? Ripping the envelope open I read the words: “You are hereby

summoned for jury duty.”

However, this time, it’s not local. The big boys in the U.S. Federal Court system want to see my

smiling face in Memphis. The letter even tried to make me feel bad by appealing to my civic


First thought: “I sure hope it’s not a ‘Bernie Madoff’ type case.”

I could see myself spending a year in Shelby County. Now that would be a legal nightmare.

It’s easier to be pardoned for being a serial killer than get excused from Federal jury duty.

My next thought was: “Hey, this isn’t a duty. This is a chore, it’s inconvenient and intrudes into my

lifestyle.” Yeah sure. I could just visualize telling the judge my feelings. Probably get more time than a

convicted ax murderer.

Immediately, I started reading about the reasons for being excused. I’m not old or sick enough to use

those excuses. You have to be on life support and over a hundred years old.

I then called a few friends who I believed exhibited political influence in getting folks relieved from

jury duty. They hung up on me before I could tell them the whole story. I called back, thinking there

must have been a disconnection. I even offered them lots of money. They still hung up on me. I knew I

was in real trouble when politicians turned down cash.

So, being the civic-minded citizen I am, I planned my trip to Memphis. Rising at five in the morning

to be there at eight is not my idea of civic obligation. After finally locating a $15 parking spot, I

traverse across eight lanes of traffic toward the walnut-covered walls of justice. There would be justice

for all in the building, but not equally distributed.

Entering the building required passing through a metal detector. I asked the guard next to the unit, “Is

this the airport?” That didn’t go over well. They kept my fingernail clippers, Case pocketknife, and

brass knuckles, leaving nothing to use in fighting back.

After checking a national database on their computer and finding out I wasn’t on the FBI “Most

Wanted” list, I was directed to room 201 on the second floor.

Walking into the room, I saw many people standing in line. I was told to approach the counter, state

my name, hand in the form received in the mail, show my picture ID, and promise not to make any

legal jokes. That was the hard part for me.

The lady asked to see my parking receipt. I was informed a check would be mailed to me in three

weeks to reimburse me for the cost. Our government’s checking account is overdrawn by $34T, and

they’re sending me one of their checks!

I asked the lady, “Is there any way to get cash?” That didn’t go over well at all. She looked at me as if

I were the one on trial.

Next I was instructed to sit and be prepared to watch a video in about 30 minutes. Thinking it might

be a confession from the accused on trial, my hope was boosted. A good chance I’d be leaving these

hallowed halls real soon and be on my way back to Dyersburg.

When the time came to view the video, I was excited about seeing the person who happened to be in

trouble with the Federal government. Maybe he would confess his crime and throw himself at the

mercy of the court, thus saving all of us some trouble.

Bummer. The “behind-the-counter” lady stands in front of everyone and announces that we are

required to view a fifteen-minute presentation pertaining to jury duty and for all of us to pay close

attention. She made the jury duty stuff sound important.

The only words I remembered from the video were: “trials are different from those on television and

in movies”. And I thought those television trials were real stuff.

We were then informed that as soon as the judge arrived, we would be ushered into his courtroom.

Glad I brought the last 12 months of National Geographic to read.

The judge would be selecting people from the jury pool for the trial, which would put him on the same

level as a lifeguard. I was wondering if he had Red Cross certification.

A thought entered my tired brain: What is a jury anyway? It could be a body of 12 men and women

selected to decide which side had the better lawyer. A jury is a group of 12 men and women of average

ignorance. It’s also the only thing that doesn’t work right when it’s fixed.

Described as the best system on earth, our jury system has one great flaw. It’s a little frightening to

know your fate is in the hands of twelve people who weren’t smart enough to get excused.

About halfway through my twelve issues of National Geographic, we were told to march down the

hall and enter the courtroom. I could finish that exciting segment about the South American tree frog


Our pool of 90 people was ushered into a special section in the back of the impressive courtroom,

which had walnut-covered walls. As the judge entered, he put on a legal-looking robe to hide his golf


“Good morning ladies and gentlemen. The court thanks you for honoring your civic obligation.”

Yeah, sure. Like we had a choice.

After some boring introduction remarks, he asked if anyone in the pool felt like they couldn’t serve on

the jury by giving a fair and impartial rendering of the evidence or something like that. It sure sounded

like one of those television shows. I even looked around to see if I was on camera.

I was trying to come up with a good excuse. I should have talked with my preacher before arriving in

the courtroom as he has heard more excuses than anybody else. He had a great selection to choose


Not wanting to be the first to raise my hand, I looked around the pool.

Finally, one man and then another one raised their hands. Up went mine. I was swept into the moment

without giving any thought to my excuse.

Being recognized by the judge, I stood up quickly, ready to give the only feeble excuse I could think


“Sir, we are extremely busy at my company, and I need to be there.”

“So, you are one of those individuals who think your company can’t get along without you?” remarked

the judge.

“No your honor,” I replied. “I know it can get along without me, but I don’t want it to find out.”

“Excused,” said the judge.