Several weeks ago, I had jury duty for the first time. I showed up for my 1:30 p.m. summons on a Monday along with 59 other disgruntled Austinites. We were told that we were going to earn $11 for our half-day of civic duty. The selected jurors would earn $34 per day served; jurors used to earn $44 per day, but Texas had to make some budget cuts.
Students automatically don’t have to serve. The judge said that we were free to come let her know privately if financial hardship would be a deterrent to us serving, though she made sure to emphasize that it was very, extremely, wildly difficult to be dismissed for that these days. Great.
Around 5 p.m., when the voir dire process wrapped up, I learned that I was one of 12 jurors selected for a felony double-manslaughter case. A nice, hardworking teenage boy had been speeding, lost control of his car and crashed into two women (both mothers) sitting at a bus stop while waiting to go to work. Both women were killed by blunt force trauma from the car crashing into them. One died on impact, and the other died shortly after help arrived at the scene. The case lasted five days and was gory, emotional and complicated. It was one of the most difficult weeks of my life.
I kept thinking of how expensive it is to be involved in legal disputes. One thing I thought about was jurors — I have a full-time job, so my company can’t fire me for having to serve jury duty. But for people who are self-employed and are assigned to a major case, they are giving up precious income to serve. The case wrapped up several weeks ago, and I have yet to receive my check.
Next are the families. The family members of the defendant and the two victims were at court all day, every day, so they all had to miss a full week of work. I’m sure some people had to sacrifice major pay for that, too.
Then, there is the defendant. He is only 21, and it was clear that his family didn’t have tons of money. His car was destroyed, and he was fired when the accident happened. While he got another job, he couldn’t work anymore once court proceedings started up again. His parents said on the stand that they have had to had significant family counseling to try to get through this. He had a team of two lawyers, and while they weren’t the best lawyers around, I’m sure they weren’t cheap. We convicted him, and the punishment was long-term probation and a hefty fine. There’s the possibility that he will try to appeal or will be taken to civil court by the victims’ families. All in all, I can’t even fathom how much money he and his family have had to spend trying to end this. I could tell they were also all so emotionally devastated by the accident. His stepdad said on the stand that the defendant wanted to give every dollar he earned back to the victims’ families, but the stepdad had to explain that it doesn’t really work that way.
Even though my dad is a lawyer and my husband is in law school, I never really stopped to think about how much the legal system financially impacts everyone involved. We can all do our best to obey the law, but nobody is perfect, and one wrong move can wreck us financially. Another reason why it’s best to always be prepared.