Jury Duty

A couple weeks ago I got tagged for jury duty and actually had to report. It’s both exciting and daunting to actually consider being on a jury. While I believe it’s a civic duty and would love to know more about the legal stuff, it’s also a huge pain in the ass which can never come at a good time.

When I reported on Wednesday, it turned out to be quite a bit more exciting and quite a bit more daunting. Murder. Insanity plea. Six-week estimated length of trial.


I think everyone was sort of shellshocked. There’s definitely something sexy about murder. At the same time, six weeks off of work (i.e. six weeks remoting in after-hours from home) is brutal.

Wednesday ended up being a mass dismissal of all non-English speakers and anyone whose job wouldn’t compensate them for the time off.* The rest of us filled out a massive 20-page questionnaire about our opinions of and experiences with the police, attorneys, the 5th amendment, self-defense, mental illness, etc. After filling out the form, we were instructed to report back on Tuesday.

*Thought experiment. And not suggesting that I can think of any better way to do this. Is it fair to the defendant to exclude any non-salary, non-exempt worker from the jury?

On Tuesday, the actual jury selection begins. 18 lucky contestants are chosen for the panel and the lawyers go to town. I am not selected. Like the rest of the group, I find this kind of annoying. Yay for more waiting.

The questioning from the lawyers and the instructions from the judge are pretty interesting though. I get a definite sense that they’re actually working together to pick a good jury. All are stressing the importance of the 5th amendment and really hammering on anyone who shows any sort of bias to make sure it’s legitimate rather than just an attempt to get off the jury. Also interesting is how many of the panelists appear to be actively trying to please the attorneys. I can’t figure out whether this is due to people wanting to be on the jury or cagey attorneys taking advantage of our natural instinct to please.

I’m also beginning to notice important themes for both the DA and the Defense. The Defense is really trying to determine if people are open to the concept of adult-onset mental illness with no prior medical history. The Defense is also really pushing the concept of trying to determine exactly what was going through the defendant’s head during the act.* Meanwhile the DA is looking for people willing to trust circumstantial evidence. Oh, and it turns out that this is definitely not an “is this the right guy” case but rather an “is it really murder” case. Also, it’s a stabbing. And prostitution is involved.

*I don’t think I can be fully convinced of this. I can buy self-defense stuff, at the same time, I do believe that certain societal rules should be followed and don’t require understanding of the underlying principles. Being nice to other people is one of those rules. My son is 18-months old and we’re teaching him this. We’re not wasting our time with explaining why.

We make it to the end of Tuesday before we get to the exclusion phase. Seven panelists are dismissed, seven new ones are brought in, and we all switch our opinions about hoping our names are called.

The good news is: eleven jury members selected, only four (one jury and three alternates) left to go. The bad news is that holy crap, they’re not really excluding people. And yes, my brain has decided that I do not want to be on the jury.

We’re to report back the next day.

Wednesday morning, the same kind of questions. The new panelists have had time to think though and do a better job at not giving in to the lawyers. The next exclusion phase results on tossing another 7 panelists (including a couple of the originally selected group—I guess the lawyers had some extra time to think overnight too). Now we’re all nervous. We don’t want to get selected and how long is the selection process going to take?

More questions followed by two exclusions. After both attorneys pass, all of us in the gallery sort of gasp. We can do the math and realize that things are almost done. Also, it’s ~11:00 and there’s a chance we can go home before lunch.

Or not. We enter a long recess which lasts until we’re informed to come back at 1:30.

We grumble our way back at 1:30. Jury is sworn in. Alternate-selection begins. Crap. I don’t think any of us realized that alternate selection was the same process as jury selection. Only one exclusion is exercised though. And it’s because the DA wants to choose which of the four remaining panelists are alternates rather than let the judge do the picking.

We’re out by 2:00. Woohoo!

Final thoughts? I’m generally impressed with what I saw. Waiting sucks. But the court I was in seemed to be committed to actually educating us about basic legal practices. Is definitely an interesting process. And I’m a bit sad I missed all the groveling to get out for “personal hardship.”

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at njwv.wordpress.com, and the web at vossbrink.net

2 thoughts on “Jury Duty”

  1. Sounds like a fascinating study of our court system. Glad to hear the lawyers and judge did not seem to live up to the stereotypical image of just trying to win the case.

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