Jury duty

Never been called before and I’m kind of excited to experience this.

Well, “excited” may be too strong a word, but I’m intrigued. Juries are an expression of faith in democracy, of faith in people. The idea and the ideals are things I’ve always supported, but I’ve never experienced the process firsthand.

Today’s my chance to do that. The automated message at the 800-number they had me call last night said I should get to the courthouse by 8:30 a.m., shouldn’t wear shorts, and shouldn’t bring any weapons. Check, check and check.

Anyway, I’m not in charge of my schedule for the next couple of days, so I may have to resort to evening-only blogging until Wednesday.

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  • Diona the Lurker

    I actually have an exemption from jury duty. I’m severely deaf – bad enough that I have a couple of cochlear ear implants – so there’s no way I’d be able to serve on a jury. I’m not entirely sorry about this; while it would be an interesting experience, the thought of having the fate of another person in my hands is really rather scary.

    Weird story – back when I was in my early twenties, before I even got my implants, I was called up twice for jury service. I was excused the first time; the second time, I went around to the courthouse with my mum to get a permanent exemption, letting her do the talking. Waiting for the bloke on the desk to return from the back of the office, someone stuck his head out from around a door, stared straight at me where I was reading a notice board – and giggled. WTF?!

  • Hawker40

    While I was active duty, I recieved a jury notification once a year.  Being in the navy and assigned to a deployable unit (and at least twice, actually deployed) I was excused.

    After I got out, I immediately was called up and went to the courthouse, where they started selection process for a case that would involve trigger warnings and underage girls if I were to describe it.  The first thing the defense attorney asked was who in the pool was a parent of a girl, and then asked the judge to have everyone who raised thier hand dismissed.

    A year later, I was called in for one day, but my number wasn’t called.

    A year after that, I pulled jury duty during Thanksgiving Week, and wasn’t actually called in.

    And I haven’t gotten a letter since.  It’s been a few years, maybe they’ve forgotten me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-Lipton/100001171828568 Jeff Lipton

    I’ve been called twice and the latter experience really pissed me off. 

    I was in the first group to go to a room in the morning.  They sat about 20 of us in the back and called 18 of us to the jury box, with six seats in front (I was Juror # 1!!!))  They let us know that the trial was scheduled to last two weeks.  Since I was going driving up to see my mom in two weeks (I live in LA, she lives near San Francisco) I was a little worried in case the trial ran long.

    So…  they started voir dire… one by one, not en banc as with my previous experience.  Since this was a case of sexual abuse of a minor, I could see why they wanted to be careful.  But this was going to take a while…

    At the first break, I asked to speak to the judge, and told him and the attorneys about my plans.  I also did not hide the fact that I wear a hearing aid and can’t hear every word.  I told them that I took jury duty to be a serious obligation.  The judge asked if I could postpone my trip.  I told him that I would ask my mom.  I did and she agreed that serving was important and that I should come up later.

    After a full week, they still don’t have a full jury, but since they haven’t asked me any questions in a while, I’m pretty confident that I will “survive”.  But after a full week, they call me into conference in a hallway and ask about my hearing.  I’m honest with them — I can’t hear every word, especially the judge who talks veryfast.  But I can always ask to have something repeated so it shouldn’t be a problem.  Nope, as soon as we come back into session — “Thank you for your time.”

    I was mad as hell — still pretty pissed about the whole thing.  If my hearing was going to be a problem, why couldn’t they have dismissed me before I had to disrupt my plans?

    I doubted they would have the jury seated in two weeks, much less have the trial over by then.

  • Joshua

    Best of luck, Fred. It can be a harrowing thing to do, and a boring one. I’ve only been on a jury once, but I did find it interesting and educational. And harrowing and boring.

    The jury selection process in New Zealand seems a lot simpler and IMHO more just than the ones described here. The judge had a list of names of people involved in the case, and anyone who recognised a name was excused. The judge asked if anyone had any other reason to be excused, and one guy said he was deaf and wouldn’t be able to hear what was said. The judge was inclined to take a hard line on this, as the court was fitted with a hearing aid induction loop just for times like this. The guy didn’t seem happy about it, and one of the lawyers excused him. Wins a point with the rest of the pool, and saves the guy some hassle. He was the only one excused.

    At no point did we get asked any questions individually, or get asked any questions by the lawyers. They either didn’t have or didn’t take a change to fiddle the demographics of the jury pool. It should be random – a jury of your peers, not vetted by interested parties.

    Fairly serious charges, too. I doubt anyone wants gory details, but the maximum sentence would be more than half of what you’d get for murder over here.

    All in all, I was amazed by the effectiveness of the system. It was run by perfectly ordinary people, and the jury included all sorts, but cross-examination in a courtroom makes it difficult to lie without being caught in a misstep and our jury deliberation left no stone unturned. Everyone’s got their point of view, and had a chance to speak, so no piece of evidence or line of thought was ignored.

    I remember feeling the weight of responsibility, that I could sent this guy away for years and ruin his life, and how that would be for him if he was innocent. But I also thought of the victim, that setting the guilty free in front of her could easily wreck her life too. So I just voted on my reading of the evidence and didn’t second-guess myself any further.

    We put him away. I have no doubt at all that we were right to do so.

  • Joshua

    Oh yeah, if I can double-post.

    I think the “reasonable doubt” standard is very carefully chosen. I think it can sometimes be treated as “almost certain” but that’s not what it says. If you have a doubt, it has to be reasonable. The defense is trying to create, at minimum, reasonable doubt: is their version of events reasonable?

    In the case I was on, the defense did as much to dispel reasonable doubt as the prosecution. You expect us to find that story reasonable? Uh-huh.

    In the case described by Mary Kaye on the last page, obviously without knowing the full story, yeah, the guy owned a car for ten years, paid the fees for ten years, but didn’t drive it? Is that reasonable? If it’s a valuable classic with only 500 miles on the clock, he’d be able to show that. If he did it for his broke brother to drive to work, out of some family obligation, he’d be able to show it. Just the unsupported statement by itself isn’t a reasonable story IMHO.

    In another case I heard about, a house got burgled. It was established to the jury’s satisfaction that the defendant had helped to load the van up from the front porch of the house. The legal point of fact on which the case hung was whether he had personally entered the house and carried stuff out. His story, apparently, was that he was walking along the street and just wanted to help out some guys he thought were shifting house. Some of the jurors felt that that was enough to create reasonable doubt. IMHO it can create doubt, certainly, the world is a strange place and the people even stranger, but it’s just not reasonable. Don’t know how it turned out in the end.

  • http://twitter.com/mattmcirvin Matt McIrvin

    I’m in Massachusetts, where the rule (for the state courts) is “one day or one trial”: if you don’t get on a jury after a day in the courthouse, you go home and you’re off the hook for three years.   

    So I’ve been called four times and actually had to go in three times, but I’ve never been on a jury.  The closest I got was the last one, a serious violent-crime case in Superior Court where they went through enough people at the voir dire stage that they *almost* called me up to the front for questioning, but not quite.

    The weird thing about it was that it was in Salem, and it was right around Halloween, when Salem becomes a major tourist attraction because of a grotesque miscarriage of justice 300+ years ago.  I tried to remind myself not to add to the legend.

    My wife’s never been called at all, despite living in Massachusetts for 16 years.   It’s strangely arbitrary.  One of the stated justifications for “one day or one trial” is that, since it requires them to call in a lot of people, they get a lot of public civic involvement in the court system.  But in practice, I suspect that the first people they tap are the people who came in last time and whose three years are up, probably because they’re the most likely people to actually show up.

  • http://inquisitiveravn.livejournal.com/ Inquisitive Raven

    I haven’t really bothered to track how often I’ve been called up since I moved to Philly, but until 2010, they got me every three years like clockwork. Last time, it took them four years. I’ve only actually served on  a jury twice, once for a criminal case, and once for a civil case. Before moving to Philly, I was called up twice in Delaware County. Both places do the “one day or one trial” thing described for Massachusetts.

    It’s interesting to contrast the two locations. Frankly, the summer stock theater folding chairs would have been an improvement over the things that were provided for seating at the Delco county courthouse, and the magazines were all out of date. The first time I was called, one jury was empaneled (I was not called for it), and we were sent home after lunch. The second time, no juries were empaneled, and we were sent home before lunch.

    In Philadelpia, the jury waiting  area has movie theater style seating with folding lecture hall style desks so people have a surface to write on when filling out questionnaires. As soon as the introductory video is done, they start empaneling juries. Civil cases are tried at City Hall, criminal case in the Criminal Justice Center. I don’t remember going through any sort of security check in Delco, but it’s been nearly twenty years, so don’t take that as reliable. Philly’s security check makes the TSA look sloppy. Okay, they don’t make you take off your shoes (yet), but they’re  otherwise very thorough. I was surprised when they let me keep my cell phone last time. I normally  don’t bring my cell phone to jury duty precisely because I expect it to confiscated, but last time I needed it in case I had to reschedule  a doctor’s appointment that I had for the very next day. On crochet vs. knitting: I’ve never had any trouble getting my crochet past the security check, but two weeks after one of my jury duty stints, someone I know had her knitting taken from her despite her making a point of bringing a project on plastic needles. Go figure.  Typically, the people not chosen for the jury in the earliest panels get sent back to the waiting area to be called again. I’ve never been one of the earliest called, so I’ve always gotten sent home after empaneling. Heh, one time for a civil case, we all filed into the courtroom,  and the involved parties promptly decided to settle.

  • http://www.oliviareviews.com/ PepperjackCandy

    I have been called up six times in the 19 years I have been in Bexar County.

    Three of those times I was exempted due to being a stay-at-home mom.

    I have only come close to being put on a jury once.  The case was one where the plaintiff had bought a house with a leaky roof and, after leaving a family heirloom under the leak for several rainstorms, the heirloom had been damaged.  She was suing the previous owners for the damage to the heirloom.  She said they should have disclosed the leak.

    The only question they asked the prospective jurors was whether they could hear this case with an open mind.

    They found their jury before they got to me, but if they had asked me, I would have had to have said “no,” because I believed she had a duty to mitigate the damages — she should have moved the family heirloom out from under the leak the first time.

    The attorneys I worked with at the time agreed with me, by the way.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    So, I asked once before what would happen if I were on a jury panel for a capital crime. (Not gonna happen, cos I live in a country that doesn’t have a powerful Right To Life lobby, so naturally we’ve abolished the death penalty).

    I was advised that, as a capital punishment abolitionist, I’d probably be considered ineligible. Which I guess means juries are an expression of people who don’t conscientiously object to state-imposed violence. But anyway.

    New question: if you also object, as a matter of principle, to mandatory minimums–would that disqualify you from serving on a jury where such penalties applied?

    Conscientious objection: not just for abortion and gay rights!

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    John Grisham’s A Time To Kill has a black prospective juror finding out that opposition to the death penalty gets you disqualified during voir dire. Result: all the black prospectives dissemble and claim they have no problem with it.

  • Lori

     

    I was advised that, as a capital punishment abolitionist, I’d
    probably be considered ineligible. Which I guess means juries are an
    expression of people who don’t conscientiously object to state-imposed
    violence. But anyway. 

    Juries in death penalty cases have to be “death qualified”. If you’re totally unwilling to impose a capital sentence then you don’t get on the jury.

     

    New question: if you also object, as a matter of principle, to
    mandatory minimums–would that disqualify you from serving on a jury
    where such penalties applied? 

    Yes, provided that the judge accepted that your objection to mandatory minimums was a sincerely held belief and not just an attempt to avoid serving on the jury. If you’re flat out unwilling to impose the sentence required by law then you’re considered unqualified to be on the jury.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Worth being clear here, that these are both just examples of “If you say up front that even if the prosecution proves its case beyond a reasonable doubt, you will still refuse to return a guilty verdict for political reasons not specifically related to the case, you’ll be disqualified”, which is itself a special case of “If you have already decided what the verdict is before the trial starts, you’ll be disqualified.” — If you’re opposed to mandatory minimums and this is a mandatory minimum case, you’re pretty much saying “You don’t actually need to tell me the details of this case; I’ve already decided to acquit”

  • Lori

     Yes, there are good reasons for the qualification rules. I was just answering the question Sgt Pepper’s asked. Some opinions do keep you from being considered qualified to serve on a jury.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    If you say up front that even if the prosecution proves its case beyond a reasonable doubt, you will still refuse to return a guilty verdict for political reasons not specifically related to the case, you’ll be disqualified

    (emphasis added)

    Moral reasons.

  • EllieMurasaki

    If you’re opposed to mandatory minimums and this is a mandatory minimum
    case, you’re pretty much saying “You don’t actually need to tell me the
    details of this case; I’ve already decided to acquit”

    Wait, so there’s no difference between “I think the defendant’s guilty and I think the minimum sentence is too harsh” and “I think the defendant’s not guilty”?

  • Lori

     

    Wait, so there’s no difference between “I think the defendant’s guilty
    and I think the minimum sentence is too harsh” and “I think the
    defendant’s not guilty”?  

    No. The point is that a person who is opposed to mandatory minimums is a risk for jury nullification because the only way to avoid giving a mandatory minimum sentence is to acquit the defendant.  Judges and prosecutors don’t want to take on known, obvious risk like that so they dismiss that person and move on to the next one in the jury pool.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    That said, isn’t it almost like the judges and lawyers are purposely stacking the deck in favor of people who are predisposed to vote to convict in the first place? (-_-)

  • Lori

     

    That said, isn’t it almost like the judges and lawyers are purposely
    stacking the deck in favor of people who are predisposed to vote to
    convict in the first place?  

    Being willing to impose the legal sentence if a person is guilty is not the same thing as being predisposed to find the person guilty. I’m sure there are some people who would be willing to impose the death penalty for some crimes, but would feel the weight of that responsibility in a way that would make them demand more or better proof for a conviction.

    I haven’t looked at jury research on the issue for years so I don’t know how it plays out in practice these days.

  • Dash1

    I did a quick search for studies to see if there was evidence that those who were pro-death-penalty were more likely to convict in general, and I’m not seeing the evidence for that. I did find some studies that indicated that there was no connection.

    Of course, it was a quick search, and I’m not a legal expert, so I may be missing important journals or important studies.


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