Injustice in the court: The trials of jury duty in Baltimore

March 21, 2013

I served jury duty in Baltimore City recently, an annual event and my civic duty. It's inconvenient and thankless but necessary to be sure that people get the fair treatment that they're guaranteed by the Constitution. But what about the jurors? Where's the fair treatment for them?

There is little information provided about what's OK to bring in and what isn't, either on the juror web site or in the summons. Weapons are forbidden (well, duh) as are knitting needles. Crochet needles are on the list of banned items, but I wrote that off as a mistake made by someone who doesn't know that crochet requires the use of hooks that are, by definition, not pointy. I arrived at court, prepared for the big wait, with yarn, a crochet hook, an audio book, a paper book and snacks. I brought a pair of safety scissors with me because I needed them for my yarn. A remnant from one of my children's kindergarten supply kits, they had perfectly round tips and were barely sharp enough to cut paper. The scissors were confiscated, but I didn't argue because the website specifies that scissors are verboten. That was the first pass through the metal detector. The second, third and fourth times went without incident.

In the company of many, many unlucky souls, I was called for jury selection at around noon. We all sat in a court room for an hour and a half before the judge released us for lunch at 1:30 p.m. There were some very growly stomachs by then, given the 8 a.m. reporting time for jurors. We had to be back in an hour, and I set out armed with a list of restaurants that give discounts to jurors. I got that from that same jury website and went to the first place on the list. The owner informed me that they hadn't honored that discount for six years. Hello, Baltimore. How about updating your website?

I was lucky. Fifty or so members of my panel were held behind for further questioning and only got about 30 minutes for lunch. Knowing that the meal break could well be delayed, I brought yogurt with me to fill the gap. And what do you use to eat yogurt? A spoon! So I reached into my flatware drawer and grabbed one.

When I returned to the main courthouse at 3:30 p.m. (just in case another judge needed some jurors), my spoon was confiscated. Seriously? What dangerous act could I perform with a spoon? It was part of an expensive set, so I asked the folks running the scanner if they couldn't please hold it for me. After all, it was 3:30. The answer was a resounding, no. Once an item is confiscated, it is not returned to its owner no matter what. When I was dismissed at 3:45, I went back to the metal detector to plead my case. Could I please look in their trash? Still no.

So, a juror gets an arbitrary and unreasonable application of justice, while an actual criminal gets to inconvenience law abiding citizens so that he or she can get a fair trial. I want my spoon back! I want my day in court! Oh, wait, I already had one.

Baltimore, how about giving the folks that you're dragging into court, year after year, for the paltry remuneration of $15 per day, a break. Give us accurate information about places that offer discounts and, more importantly, about what is and is not allowed in court. In financial terms, I figure that today's jury duty cost me $45 — that's $30 more than I was paid. In terms of annoyance, frustration and indignity, the cost is way higher.

Carol Creed, Baltimore

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