Jury Summons....the words strike dread into the hearts of many Americans. But when I saw them in my mail box, I was happy. I think that makes me some sort of "nerd". It is something I have always wanted to do...and yet I did have some concerns. I think I share these concerns with many other people, and I am happy to report that we were wrong.
To start, I had thought that the court system was rather Orwellian. Big Brother wants you for Jury Duty and you must comply regardless of how it impacts your life. My next concern was that I might end up on a case that would last "forever" (definition of forever 2 months or more). After all, I've read John Grishom! And I remember how long the O.J. Simpson trial lasted...more than forever! If you have the same preconceptions and want to know how it really works, keep reading. If I have bored you already...then sorry, please check back soon for my next post.
I actually received the Jury Summons a few months ago, and it wasn't a good time for me. To my relief and surprise, the summons includes instructions to defer service...and to a date of your choosing! Wow, thanks Big Brother, that's pretty reasonable! So I thought about it and defered to July 6th. I mailed it in, and received a reply in the mail. Deferal accepted. So far so good!
On Wednesday, I nervously drove to the court house...another pleasant surprise...free parking. Yes, I am easily amused. I was able to pass through security without incident (phew! going through security always makes me nervous). Large signs made it easy to find the place to check in.
Next step, wait. Finally after about an hour of waiting, a judge came in and addressed us. He seemed very friendly (must not have been "the" Big Brother.) He thanked us for being willing to serve. I thought "willing" was probably a stretch, but it was kind of him, anyway. He commiserated that the jury pay of $10 a day is really paltry. In 1913 the pay was $3 a day and in 1950 they changed it to $10 and haven't changed it since. He explained that the reason for the waiting so far and the wait that awaited us...was this: in some cases the parties involved can chose if they prefer the case to be decided by a judge or a jury. For example cases involving a lot of legal business (corporate law etc) are often decided by judges, whereas cases that are based on facts (rather than legal mumbojumbo) are better for juries. So at the beginning of the day, the court may not know for certain if they will require a jury or not. Even when they know they do want a jury sometimes the attorneys have motions and things to take care of that require an undetermined amount of time. When they are ready, they want potential jurors ready to choose from. (Are you also getting the image of a lake stocked with fish?)
Then there was a short video that explained the basics of jury selection. Forgive me if you already know this from John Grisham, but I thought it was interesting. Both the prosecution and the defense have opinions about the kind of people they hope to have on the jury, so from a large pool, they ask questions. This process is called voir dire.
After the video we waited. Another hour or so passed and a group of 50 people was called to court for voir dire. I was not one of them, so I waited some more. We broke for lunch (a generous hour and a half) and then returned to wait some more. I am not kidding about the waiting! Finally, they announced that they would be calling up 58 potential jurors for the next voir dire. I was included in this group.
Remember that one of our concerns as potential jurors is getting "stuck on a forever case"? In this case the judge informed us that this case is expected to last 2 weeks and we were given the opportunity to express ourselves if this would be a hardship. Several people said it would be and were questioned by the judge. Some of the reasons given seemed like genuine hardships to me, being the main caregiver for a mentally disabled adult, for example. Some I had less sympathy for...family reunions, vacations, and airline tickets. Don't think me heartless...remember we all had the opportunity to defer service. So I simply wondered why the people in this category didn't defer their service. The point is that as far as I could tell everyone that said 2 weeks would be a hardship was released back in the the jury pond...pool...waiting area. They were released from that trial, but not released entirely. They had to go back to the waiting room and wait to be considered for the next case. All these people were completely released from jury duty the following day BEFORE lunch. Their jury service was a day and a half! (Note: Of the 108 people that reported with me on Wedneday, 14 of them will serve on a jury, the rest were not selected for a jury and "served" only a day and a half.) From this we can conclude that our fears of being forced into a never-ending-court-case seem to be unfounded. The judge seemed very reasonable, and so far I haven't encountered Big Brother or any of his minions.
The next step was to continue the voir dire. I'm not supposed to talk about the case...even now...and the jury hasn't been decided yet. So stay tuned for part two later. I can say, that after a couple hours of this we were released to go home and asked to return in the morning of the following day to continue. I thought that since we were asked to arrive by 8:45 am that we would start at 9. Wouldn't that be your assumption as well? But I had already forgotten the first lesson of jury duty...wait, wait, and wait some more.
On Thursday morning we were informed that our pool of 58 had dwindled too much and so the judge asked for more jurors. While they went upstairs and repeated the steps, I and my companions had been through the previous day, we sat and waited...you can guess what comes next right? We waited some more. Seriously. After lunch we were called up to the court room again. Would it surprise you at this point to learn that we have not finished voir dire and I have to return on Monday?
So, for those of you, who got bored and are skimming (caught you!) here's what I learned. Judges and the court system in general are not Orwellian, they are actually pretty reasonable and willing to work with people. Second, eternal court-cases appear to be less common and prospective jurors in these cases are given ample warning and given a chance to be excused for hardship.
The most important lesson so far seems to be...bring something to do! They do provide wi-fi, so you could bring your lap top. They also have vending machines, a microwave and a refrigerator. Whether it is your laptop, a book, or suduku...bring something. You will need it!
Other than that Jury Duty as not as bad as people think...come prepared and "this won't hurt a bit."