Many people don’t want to be called for jury duty, and many who are called hope to never sit on a jury, but the ones who do get picked usually feel good about it, and are glad they did it. Except of course for the alternate, who doesn’t know he or she is an alternate until it’s too late to do anything about it. An alternate for anything else knows he or she is an alternate. But not the alternate juror, who everyone but the alternate, knows is an alternate. Not the alternate, who is the butt of an inside joke she knows nothing about until the trial ends. Not the alternate, who unless something bad happens to the six real jurors, is nothing more than an unwitting witness to a trial the outcome of which he or she has nothing to do with. The alternate if never called into action is a fake juror. An imitation juror. A mock juror. A hostage without a ransom. Not good enough to hang with the real jurors, but not so bad to be discarded. The alternate juror is tricked and teased into thinking that they really had to pay attention to what was going on.
Every time a trial ends and the real jurors are sent off to deliberate, I feel like the Judge should say in the voice of a game show host to the alternate: Thanks for playing, and I’m sorry you’re not allowed to stay, but we do have some consolation prizes that you can pick up on your way out. And then the voice over at the end of the game show should announce what those prizes are that the alternate will be taking home. At least let the alternate keep the button that says “juror.” Give them something. There should be a law passed that excuses all alternates from ever having to be called for jury duty for the rest of their lives. Besides, how could you ever trust an alternate who sits on another trial not to keep thinking that they’re being tricked again, and be suspect of the whole thing.