I was called for jury duty. When I
received the summons, I groaned. I am no stranger to jury duty. I survived
many years of adulthood without being called.
Once I received my first “invitation” in California, however, I became a
jury duty magnet. For about six years, I
routinely found summonses in my mailbox the very instant I was eligible to be
called after a prior service.
went to jury duty in California, I found the entire process to be as irritating
as cheap shoes. At first, I found it
interesting. The experience lost its
luster as I watched the legal system work. Maybe “dabble” would be a better
word because nothing ever seemed to actually work. There were hordes of potential jurors
crumpled into a giant jury assembly room. The crowd was typically SRO by the
time a clerk officially opened the proceedings by introducing a video explaining
the nobility of jury service. The video starred Fess Parker. I’m not sure I was alive when that video was
in California were often protracted, complicated affairs. Jury selection alone often took an entire
week. Thousands of potential jurors hung
out in hallways while mysterious goings-on inside the courtrooms sucked time
out of the day, moment by agonizing moment.
I’ve heard the saying that “they also serve who stand and wait.” That
saying must have been about jury duty.
Fess Parker would be proud of me, given the amount of time I have spent
waiting in jury duty.
may think I exaggerate when I say “thousands of potential jurors” and maybe I do. However, it was not at all unusual for a
judge to call over 100 potential jurors for a single trial. The process of whittling down this cast of
hundreds to twelve jurors and two alternates was painstaking…. and painsgiving.
Judges would usually start the jury selection process by hearing the requests
of anyone asking to be excused. People
tried everything they could think of to get excused. They’d unearth long forgotten relatives with some
tenuous connection to law enforcement.
Maybe they didn’t actually have a family member who was a convicted
felon, but they had one who played one on tv.
Prospective jurors prepared lists of exotic ailments that rendered them
incapable of service. Everyone had
philosophical, moral, emotional, or religious issues that prevented them from
being a fair and impartial jury member.
years of hearing every possible reason a potential juror could give for asking
to be excused, the judges were kind of jaded.
There were times when this hard-heartedness about jury excuses bordered
on the ridiculous. There was one poor
woman who explained that she was scheduled to fly to another state to be a
bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding. The
judge denied her request because there were other bridesmaids. Audible gasps echoed throughout the
courtroom. The other hopefuls waiting in the long line to request an excuse
realized they didn’t have a prayer, unless they developed a sudden need for a
kidney transplant. The attorneys on both
sides of the aisle quickly submitted a joint motion to the court that the juror
be excused. They based this motion on
their very justifiable belief that there was no way this lady would be thinking
about anything during the entire trial except how pissed off she was at the
judge. I think we were all relieved when
the judge finally agreed.
that story had a happy ended, the point is that the level of interest in serving
jury duty is so subterranean that the judges can’t even allow themselves to be
reasonable in considering requests for excuse.
this debating and juror-whittling takes quite some time. It gave me a good opportunity to observe my
fellow captives…. uh, I mean “potential jurors.” To be honest, a lot of these folks seemed
kind of sketchy. Listening to the
responses during voir dire did nothing to increase my confidence in them. I was more freaked out by many of the
potential jurors than I was by the defendants- the actual alleged bad
guys. I often marveled at the thought
that, if I should ever be on trial, this pool of folks would be considered a
“jury of my peers.” The idea was pretty
humbling…. and disturbing. Clearly, jury
duty is a deterrent to crime.
though my new colleagues often seemed dodgier than the defendants, the
defendants were pretty scary, too. In
all my experiences with California jury duty, I never saw an arm or a neck on a
defendant. Every one of them wore a
long-sleeved, high-collared shirt. Apparently, the most common legal advice
given by public defenders in Southern California is that the defendant should
attempt to cover his or her gang tattoos.
This proves difficult when a defendant has them on his or her face, but
those long-sleeved, high-collared shirts do cover a multitude of sins.
trial I ever encountered was messy. They
all involved violent crime. They often
involved crimes against both persons and property. There was often conflicting and self-serving
testimony. Typically, there were multiple charges that would each need
individual verdicts. As jurors, we were
given numbers and always referred to by those numbers in the courthouse to
protect our privacy and, potentially, our personal safety.
what I’ve just told you, you probably understand why I groaned upon receiving
the jury summons here in Florida.
arrived at the courthouse for my Florida jury duty, I was pleasantly
surprised. The jury assembly room was
comfortable and spacious. There was ample room for the 75 or so people who
showed up to serve. No hordes of any
kind. The people all seemed pretty
normal and law-abiding. There was no
Fess Parker video. When a batch of us were called (by our actual names!) to go
to the courtroom, about 50 of us filed into place.
turned out, those of us who marched into the courtroom were a pool for three different
unrelated trials! In California, the
voir dire process for even a single trial would have made mincemeat out of such
a puny number of jurors. In the Florida
court process, the idea was to actually select three juries with a reasonable amount of efficiency. Getting everyone together at one time- judge,
all of the defendants, all of the attorneys, and the potential jurors- avoided
a lot of duplication of effort.
interesting aspect of the jury duty experience is that none of the three trials
involved violence. Two involved driving
under the influence, with no alleged harm to person or property. The defendant in the final trial was accused
of contracting without a license. I was
kind of stupefied. I’d bet money that
none of these cases would ever see the inside of a Southern California courtroom. If anyone cared enough to prosecute them,
they would certainly be settled long before there was any need to select a
interesting phenomenon was that the attorneys asked everyone what his or her
reaction was to being called for jury duty.
Over half my colleagues were not only okay with it, but were excited
about serving. I thought I had fallen
down a rabbit loophole in the legal system.
Once the court had taken our jury duty emotional temperature, the
attorneys moved on to more formal and individualized questioning. Ultimately, no one who expressed any
reservations or disappointment about jury duty ended up on a trial.
the discussion for both the DUI cases, people seemed fairly low key. One gentleman, sadly, had lost his wife to a
drunk driving accident. While he was not
selected for either DUI trial, there was no drama or emotion around the
discussion. He answered the questions
about his experience, but felt he could be impartial. In California, I doubt he would have had a
chance to even warm his seat before being sent packing. Here, they kept him in the pool for
questioning for the entire day.
we started the process for the contracting without a license case, all hell
broke loose. All the people who sat,
reasonable and rational and unemotional, through the entire discussion of the
DUI trials suddenly became impassioned and eloquent. I had a hard time understanding why no one
seemed particularly emotional or stirred up by driving under the influence of
alcohol, but almost everyone seemed to explode over the idea that anyone could
be evil enough to install windows without governmental approval. People were actually excused because they felt
they could not be impartial about the issue.
I did not get selected for any of the three juries. I wasn’t exactly
brokenhearted. Still, I have to say that
my tolerance for jury duty increased during my day of service. I’m never going to be one of the people who
raise their hands to say “pick me, pick me!” when the attorneys question them
about their level of enthusiasm over receiving a jury summons. On the other hand, I am no longer tempted to
schedule unnecessary surgery simply to get excused.
such a good citizen.
else have a jury duty story you care to share?
Or what about just a story about some relatively minor thing that seemed
very different after you made a huge change in your life like moving or
retiring? Please share your perspective
by leaving a comment. In the
alternative, you can email me at email@example.com.