Morning Story: Time served but no jury service

By Mark Story

I've appeared before a judge just the once.

I was 19. I'd driven my 1973 s not-green Toyota Corolla about the Manawatu region for a year without warrant, without registration.

What can I say?

I was a university student who'd spent the previous year's car maintenance without compunction on endless frothy jugs from the Fitz Hotel.

A stout parking warden snapped me, smiled and slapped a fine under the windscreen-wiper.

From memory it totalled $550.

Hoping the situation would disappear into the ether, I binned each reminder.

Scores of letters and Fitz happy hours later, the wording became more pointed.

Each serve from the civil servants less civil than the last.

Succumbing to the heat, I strolled into the Palmerston North District Court to talk turkey. Apparently I could elect to appear before a judge and have the fines remitted for community work.

A financial bind swapped for physical toil.

I borrowed a shirt and tie from a friend, stood in the dock and absorbed a well-deserved lecture from his honour.

I lied and said I regretted my decision making. I could never sincerely apologise for the debauched but inviolate hours spent in that mystical student pub. As the judge continued to admonish the skewed priorities of my student lifestyle, I stood thinking it was quite plausible he'd sunk copious jugs of ale during his law degree.

Forty-hours of community work was imposed.

That's a lot of happy hours. Then again, $550 was tantamount to 275 $2 happy hour jugs. A no brainer.

I was escorted to the court cells where for two hours I read obscene graffiti and stared at the facial decorations of a snoring mobster.

Released into the Palmerston North rain I felt like a criminal of some note.

Once bitten, and with my car still legally lame, I hitchhiked late to a lecture. Life was rather romantic back then.

Given it was a fines only matter, I remain without criminal conviction.

Which brings me to my belaboured point. Why have I never been offered jury service?

My wife, my friends, my colleagues, all have been solicited numerous times to appear. Me, never. For whatever reason, I continue to be snubbed.

I enquired of the Ministry of Justice last week as to what the juror criteria were. I was told the following precluded anyone being a juror:

Anyone with an intellectual disability (as defined in law);

A Member of Parliament;

The Governor-General;

A judge, community magistrate, or visiting justice;

A member of the Parole Board;

A barrister or solicitor with a current practising certificate;

A Justice of the Peace who hears cases in the District Court; or

Employees of certain Government departments.

Neither does my brief appearance in court stand in the way. Juror ineligibility on criminal grounds hinges on whether someone has:

Been sentenced to imprisonment for life or for a term of three years or more, or to preventive detention; or

Been sentenced to imprisonment for a term of three months or more in the past five years.

So what of it, ministry? Where's my letter?

Of course, by dint of vocation I shall ask to be excused. But I remain perplexed (particularly as I now drive only warranted vehicles) as to why my character is deemed non-conducive to the interests of justice.

The upshot is I will never be the subject of a John Grisham novel. Unless of course he takes a slightly different angle and pens The Non-Juror, maybe The Vicarious Juror, or The Jilted Juror.

Either way, I remain invite-less and unable to finish the redemptive journey from criminal to one of the 12 disciples.

Mark Story is deputy editor at Hawke's Bay Today

- Hawkes Bay Today

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