Jury Duty Coda

I finally got released from jury duty, halfway through day three, and I’m exhausted. This (actual jury selection) is the farthest I’ve ever made it. That means it’s also the first time I’ve been in a criminal court since 1997, when I had to go face the guy that stabbed me. Having a pair of lawyers asking me about it really churned up a lot of things that I thought I had put behind me. Needless to say, despite my desire to do my duty I’m not cut out to be a fair and impartial juror and I’m home now.

It was also trying because I had to sit and listen to a day and a half of armchair lawyering and attempts to wriggle out of service by my fellow jurors. It’s amazing the kind of ridiculous moral ground people will stand just in an attempt to get out of jury service. Like, once they’ve said something really stupid and the judge or lawyer has pointed out the how silly it is, they just can’t back down. One girl argued that her family was “really against sexual battery,” to which the judge curty replied “I think most families would argue against sexual battery.” And what’s worse is I really think that people fight and complain about jury duty just because that’s the model they’ve learned, not because it’s really unpleasant. The majority of people (though not me) are paid for jury leave, and the hours rule. In at 10:30, an hour and half lunch, out at 4:30, typically with two 15 minute breaks wedged in there somewhere. And often they don’t need you exactly at those times so you can chill out and read a book or check your email or whatever.

More importantly, that guy in the defendant’s seat deserves a fair trial. Everybody liked to laugh and joke and make a game out of it, but this guy’s life could be ruined. What if he was your brother or your father or your son? So many people spent so much energy arguing that there was no way they could help but identify with a victim that they never asked themselves that.

7 Replies to “Jury Duty Coda”

  1. Who was the comedian who joked about having your fate decided by twelve people who couldn’t get out of jury duty?

    Myself, I love it. They never pick me though. I think it shows that I’m happy to be there.

    Um, you were stabbed?

  2. The comedian was Dave Barry.

    I agree with your sentiment. It was terribly depressing to see all these people try to weasel out of their civic duty. In my trial the judge had to be a real hardass and talk about perjury and jail and how the bailiff would take you away right now if you lied, etc. And there were still a couple of obvious liars who got away with it. Ugh.

  3. I don’t have such a benign view of jury duty. Every time I’ve been called, I’ve wound up on the first panel seated and then I am relentlessly and invasively questioned to death – and then after a day or so of that, I’m *never* chosen. This last go around was awful because it was a statutory rape case where the victim had apparently been coerced into prosecuting. Needless to say there were many questions about whether or not any of us had ever lied, believed that children could lie, believed children could lie at first but then later tell the truth, had ever been or knew someone who was raped etc.

    As to the people giving “stupid” answers in an attempt to get out of jury duty, the way the voir dire process is – imho – forces you to give stupid answers. The warnings about untruthfully answering a question are so stern, you find yourself mentioning every silly little thing – not to mention some of the absurd questions that are asked (e.g. did you ever tell a lie when you were a child?). And then of course the judge invariably intones, “but this fact wouldn’t keep you from suspending judgment until you had all the facts at hand, would it?” or something similar to that. Quite frankly, sometimes the answer is yes, it would.

    Finally, what’s so noble about being a jurist and “judging” someone? What’s so wrong with not wanting to sit in judgment of someone – regardless of the holy civic duty sheen it supposedly has? And if you were the defendant, why in the world would you want someone on your jury who really, really did not want to be there? (Which goes to the comedian’s joke I guess).

    I’m not knocking the jury/legal system here nor the positive civic duty view expressed in the original post. Rather, it just seems that one might not want to be so censorious of others apparent motives/rationales and for not being able to handle an unusual, uncomfortable situation with well-reasoned finesse.

  4. I’ve been summoned twice but never even called out of the juror room. The last time I went was the first day of spring break. I wasn’t too disappointed they didn’t want me, and at least they let me go after a day.

  5. I’ve noticed that the same people who complain about our legal system not working are the same people who take the largest efforts to get out of jury duty.

  6. Would you rather have your fate decided by an old boys club of lawyers and judges who cannot remotely put themselves in your shoes if you are poor? or from a different background than they are? No one ever claimed this justice system is perfect. It’s not. But it’s better than a lot of other systems out there. It needs some serious tweaking, sure. And there are times when the system just doesn’t work. But isn’t there some middle ground between “exalted juror” and “lowly juror?”

    Part of an attorney’s job to “zealously represent” their client is to pick a jury which isn’t predisposed toward guilt/liability. And that may entail asking questions you are uncomfortable with or you feel, personally, are ridiculous. During voir dire, if you are ever uncomfortable answering a question, you may ask to give your answer in private to only the attorneys and judge. You are under oath to answer truthfully. Just like a witness in the trial would be. Of course the judge is stern. This is possibly someone’s LIFE or livelihood you will be deciding. You don’t want someone up there making up stories and then being unable to make an objective decision later. If the answer is “Yes, it would keep me from being objective,” SAY SO! You’re not doing anyone any favors by keeping quiet. Let the attorney decide if it matters to them.

    Additionally, if you’ve ever served on a jury, you should be glad they ask those sort of questions up front and you don’t end up in the jury sequester room with an extremist who is yelling about a bunch of stuff that doesn’t even have anything to do with the evidence. There’s enough tension in that room without a sociopath flying off the handle. You don’t have to WANT to serve on a jury, but if I was a defendant, I would still rather be judged by a small community of 12 people than 1 rich, appointed person.

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