Jury Duty Report

 

In late October I received a summons to appear for jury duty on December 6. This is old hat for me. Apparently, I am one of the lucky ones. This was my fifth summons for jury duty. One of the ladies there stated her age and said it was her first time. Her stated age was three years’ higher than my own. One of the judges came in to speak with us while we were waiting. The highest number she had ever heard of was a lady in her eighties who had been summoned six times.

The Process

If you have not been summoned to jury duty, or not been summoned lately, the process works something like this. You may receive a jury qualification questionaire. These days, such is filled out online. This may be a new thing or limited to some courts. I do not remember having filled one out before this current go-round. I received the summons to participate in the questionaire last summer.

Then you receive the summons for jury duty with a date. You may get a deferment or plead health, etc., by following the instructions that come with the summons. My summons was dated 29 October for a report date of 6 December. My county district courts apparenly summon a new pool of potential jurors monthly.

Nowadays, there is usually a call-in system where you can find out if you’re still needed. You call it the evening before your report date or each evening during your term of service in the jury pool. The courts summon a number of people based on how many cases are in progress and should see the jury phase for a given date. Many of the cases settle in one form or another before the jury trial date comes. For civil trials, it may be a settlement between the parties. For criminal cases, it may be a plea bargain. The judge who visited the jury assembly room yesterday mentioned that even having the jury pool present on the court date can spur action on the part of defendants to settle or plea. All of the cases on her docket for the upcoming week settled yesterday morning. Sometimes, enough cases settle early that they decide they don’t need jurors to come in or only a portion of those who received the initial summons. Thus the call-in system was born. Thank goodness for such modern technologies.

If you do have to go in, there is usually a jury assembly room where the prospective jurors are given a brief orientation and then wait to be called. You might want to bring a book. Depending on the court that has called you up, it could be a long wait. The first time I was called up, it was for a one-week period, and it was before the county I was living in at the time had instituted the call-in-the-evening-before system. I had to drive into the county seat every day that week and wait in the jury assembly room. Only on the last day did I get selected as a potential juror and saw the inside of the courtroom, but never got into the box. I did get to watch the voir dire for other veniremen, though.

Speaking of which, once you’re in the potential juror waiting area, whatever your court may call it, the clerk or clerks of the judge or judges for which you have been summoned may come in with a list. They will call the list of names. The number they call will depend on how large the jury is and other factors. In the court I was in yesterday, they would want seven jurors (six and an alternate) for a criminal trial and five for a civil. For the one criminal trial that actually went through at this small district court, they called about thirty veniremen to get the seven jurors. “Venireman,” or perhaps these days it’s “venireperson,” is a person who has been summoned for jury duty but not yet empaneled on the jury. Those who are called will follow the clerk out and go to the courtroom for the voir dire.

Voir dire is descended from Norman French, as many legal terms are, and originally was voire dire, “to speak the truth.” In the US, the term is now used to designate the questioning of veniremen to attempt to establish any prejudices, and so forth. It is the process through which some number of prospective jurors is whittled down to an actual seated jury.

What happens after that? I have no idea. I have never gotten that far.

My Experiences

My first summoning experience was more than a quarter-century ago. The county I was in at that time did not yet have the call-in system. My jury duty period was a week. I got to drive in about a dozen miles to the county seat each morning. I was in the jury assembly room for most of that week. Around noon each day, we were given the chance to experience the joys of restaurants available to us in beautiful downtown Mount Clemens. I was finally called into a courtroom and got to watch the voir dire process. I believe it was for a civil trial, rather than criminal. The jury was selected before I ever made it to the box, and I and the others who did not make it were sent back to the jury assembly room. Being at the county seat and at the main county courthouse, that assembly room was very large, easily large enough for a couple of hundred people.

One of the books I brought with me for that stint was Ferrol Sams’ Run with the Horsemen. A first cousin of my mother’s recommended Ferrol Sams to me. She had gone to Mercer in the same period as Dr. Sams did, although she was closer in age to John Birch (who had nothing to do with the society that was named after him posthumously). If you’re a Southerner or had a Southern upbringing, the book may explain things about your life that you never consciously thought about. It is semi-autobiographical about Sams’ childhood, and has some embarrassing scenes but also some hilarious bits. One of my favorites was where the young protagonist had just destroyed several acres of cropland and his father was heard to say, “You know, he’s a good boy. He minds well. I just can’t think of enough things to tell him not to do.” If you laugh out loud while reading a book in a jury assembly room, people look at you really funny.

My second summons was after the same county had installed the new call-in system. I called in five evenings in a row and was informed that I would not be needed. That was a wonderful thing, especially since I was badly needed at work.

My third experience was in a different county. In this one, I do not remember the terms of service offhand. I did have to go into the main county courthouse in the county seat. I was called to the courtroom and made it to the jury box for the voir dire. It was a criminal trial. I thought I was going to get on, but there was this one question: “Are you related to or close friends with any policemen, and if so, can you be fair as a juror and not prejudicial towards believing the policeman?” After I got through listing the close relatives who are or were law enforcement officers and all the ones from their departments I had known, I don’t think the defense attorney really cared whether I thought I could be objective. The police sergeant who was there to testify was shaking his head with one hand covering his mouth as he tried not to be seen to be laughing.

My fourth summons was for Federal Court. That would have meant going to downtown Detroit. If I remember rightly, it was another where I called in and was told I was not needed after all.

My fifth summons was for the county district court less than a mile from my home. That was for yesterday. I went in with about fifty other people. The jury assembly room only had about five empty chairs. It’s a small district court with only two courtroom and two judges. Shortly after our orientation video, about thirty people were called to go into one of the courtrooms. We who remained in the jury assembly room mostly read. Those of us who had not been called were finally dismissed around 12:30 PM with no more trials needing juries for next week. (Yesterday was jury selection for trials next week.) I brought along Michael Henry’s 5 Star. (Review to come later today, but short version: good novel.)

Other Thoughts

It was an interesting dynamic yesterday. As the room filled up, almost everyone tried to be as far from everyone else as possible. This became increasingly more difficult as more people arrived. There was one seat, the middle in a row of five up against one of the shorter walls of the room, where it was occupied by three different people. The first woman got up to use the lavatory, and another woman arrived and sat down there. When the first returned, she took the fifth seat in the row, but then the second woman got up to use the lavatory, and a third newly-arrived woman sat down in the middle seat.

Despite being a hermit and curmudgeon in my normal dealings, I had struck up a conversation with a few people before the assembly room was open and check-in had started. One of the other gents sat with me at a table, and we talked. He had been through a recent trial on a misdemeanor count related to his business and pursued by the recently ousted city manager. The former city manager of our suburb is apparently now making big rocks into small rocks, but the experience had left the other businessman with a bad attitude towards jury trials. “If I ever have something like that happen again, I’ll just leave it to a judge.” Guess who was the first name called to go through the voir dire for the one trial yesterday? A third guy who had sat at our table never even looked at us. Eventually, he discovered a blank spot against a wall and took his chair over there so as not to interact with humans. This seemed to be more of an issue with those under thirty than some of us who are a bit grayer and longer in the tooth.

My third time on jury duty, I believe we could bring in phones and computers to work on in the jury assembly room, but that was enough years ago that things have changed. No recording devices of any kind are allowed in the court building. And since most cell phones are cameras and portable computers have audio and video recording capabilities, none of them are allowed in. Apparently they had problems with people recording courtroom events and then editing video to make it appear as if things had happened that had not happened, so everyone suffers.

There are instructions that come with the summons. Among the instructions was this gem: “Please dress appropriately for the courtroom. Shorts, jeans and T-shirts are not allowed.” (They need an Oxford comma.) Despite this being right in the instructions, I noticed that at least six of the fifty potential jurors were wearing jeans. I did not notice any T-shirts, although there were sweatshirts and hoodies. Also, there were no shorts, but December in Michigan seldom has weather conducive to shorts. There were no suits, and I was the only male who even had a sportcoat. A few of the women were appropriately dressed, but I saw at least two pairs of yoga pants. No, ladies, yoga pants are not appropriate for wearing in court. Now, if I were a judge, I would be a bit worried about people selected as jurors who can’t follow instructions. Forget about being a judge, just as a citizen, I am concerned about that. Yet the veniremen who can follow instructions are the ones who will probably be eliminated first in the voir dire.

Et Vous, Ricochet

Have any of you had experiences you would like to share about being on jury duty? How many times have you been summoned? Perhaps you are a lawyer and have gone through the voir dire process from the other side? Any thoughts to share?

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  1. EHerring Coolidge
    EHerring
    @EHerring

    I served on two court martial juries. One was for drug use…failing drug test. Defense claimed weed was baked into the brownies and he didn’t know. I didn’t buy it. Others did. 

    The other was for drug dealing. Member was caught with a block of crossing the border after visiting the Netherlands. He claimed it was his first time and they loaned him the money for the weed. I didn’t buy that. Neither did anyone else. When we debated the penalty, I was at the harshest end. We met in the middle.

    Was called in for duty for county court. They fielded enough and dismissed me. 

    Was summoned for duty for federal court 1 1/2 hr away. It was for the same week as the National Review Cruise. You could be excused if a trip was not refundable. I had trip insurance for the cruise but not the plane tickets and precruise hotel because we hadn’t made those arrangements when we signed up for the cruise. I hadn’t gotten around to adding them to the insurance yet so I was excused.

    Federal Court was automated. County court required call in. The questionnaire asks for your bumper stickers. I am not hesitant to pepper my car with them.

    • #61
  2. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    MichaelHenry (View Comment):
    Sorry you had to go through this trauma.

    On the good side, it gave me time and reason to start your book 5 Star.

    • #62
  3. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    EHerring (View Comment):
    The questionnaire asks for your bumper stickers. I am not hesitant to pepper my car with them.

    Wait, what?

    • #63
  4. MichaelKennedy Inactive
    MichaelKennedy
    @MichaelKennedy

    MichaelHenry (View Comment):
    n high-profile cases, the likelihood of a just verdict are remote because of publicity and irrational expectations because of jurors being exposed to C.S.I., etc.

    Also the DA, father of the present Mayor of Los Angeles, moved the case from Santa Monica, where it should have been, to downtown LA where the jury pool would be far more sympathetic to a black famous defendant.  Then he assigned two incompetent assistants to the case plus one who had an anxiety attack and quit. They got a TV judge who botched the case.  I was in New Hampshire that year and watched the afternoon sessions on satellite TV.  At the end, I was not sure OJ was guilty.  It was Petrocelli in the civil case that proved him guilty.

    • #64
  5. Mister Dog Coolidge
    Mister Dog
    @MisterDog

    I was called up for state jury duty twice in the ‘90s, but I was active duty in Japan so those didn’t go anywhere.

    Called up for federal jury about 2008. That would have been a pain, it’s an hour drive to the courthouse in Anchorage, but I never got past the weekly Friday night phone-in. That was a three month term. 

    Received a state summons again last     spring that involved calling nightly for a month but they never even got close to my number. I believe I’m now exempted for two years.  

    Alaska stopped using voter rolls for jury pools and now uses Permanent Fund Dividend applications. I’m sure that allows for larger pools.

    • #65
  6. MichaelHenry Member
    MichaelHenry
    @MichaelHenry

    MichaelKennedy (View Comment):

    MichaelHenry (View Comment):
    n high-profile cases, the likelihood of a just verdict are remote because of publicity and irrational expectations because of jurors being exposed to C.S.I., etc.

    Also the DA, father of the present Mayor of Los Angeles, moved the case from Santa Monica, where it should have been, to downtown LA where the jury pool would be far more sympathetic to a black famous defendant. Then he assigned two incompetent assistants to the case plus one who had an anxiety attack and quit. They got a TV judge who botched the case. I was in New Hampshire that year and watched the afternoon sessions on satellite TV. At the end, I was not sure OJ was guilty. It was Petrocelli in the civil case that proved him guilty.

    MK: You nailed the first instance of D.A. Garcetti’s feckless incompetence–moving the trial downtown instead of the criminal district where the murder took place, the defendant resided, and the victims resided. The second instance is Garcetti taking the death penalty off the table. No jury would have ordered O.J. put to death, BUT keeping the DP in play allows the prosecutor to pick a “death-qualified” jury, i.e., one on which each juror has said under oath that if the facts justify it, he/she will vote for death. This results in a more prosecution-favorable jury and excludes jurors who say in voir dire that they would not impose the death penalty under any circumstances. Garcetti’s handling of the case was an embarrassment to good D.A.s, who will be a vanishing breed anyway if George Soros and Michael Bloomberg and liberal NGOs continue to pour millions into local D.A. races all over the country, resulting in radical defense attorneys taking over D.A.’s offices in the past couple of years as they have in San Francisco; Philadelphia; Shreveport, LA; Orlando; and Philadelphia. The criminal justice system is supposed to be adversarial. In these high-crime jurisdictions, there will now be a criminal defense attorney(at heart) for the State, and another criminal defense attorney for the defendant. Who loses? Victims of crime, about whom the liberals and progressives and radicals could not care less, unless the victim fits a certain demographic.

     

    • #66
  7. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    MichaelHenry (View Comment):
    who will be a vanishing breed anyway if George Soros and Michael Bloomberg and liberal NGOs continue to pour millions into local D.A. races all over the country

    I didn’t know that was happening. Thanks for the info. 

    • #67
  8. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    During my most recent experience of actually appearing at the courthouse for jury duty I was put into a bad mood by the “security” search at the entrance. That “security search required us to stand in a long line, and then, among other inconveniences, required me to perform what for me is the embarrassing task of removing my belt (whether or not logical, removing my belt is such a part of getting undressed that I can’t think of it any other way, and I detest removing my belt in public even more than I dislike removing my shoes). 

    The rationale for why I have to comply with the near-strip-search required to get on an airplane is that I don’t have to fly, so I can avoid the TSA intrusion by choosing not to fly on a commercial airliner. Therefore, by entering an airport to board a commercial airliner I have effectively “consented” to the TSA search.

    But, when summoned for jury duty, I was required by law to appear inside the courthouse. To get inside the courthouse I was required to submit to an intrusive search of my person. I started to make a stink about not consenting to the courthouse search, but decided I was unwilling to pay the price that would no doubt be required. Fortunately, the criminal defendant in the murder trial for which most of us were summoned that week decided on a “bench” trial in which the judge decides everything, so we were all dismissed. But I remain curious about what would happen to a prospective juror or other person who is required to appear in the courthouse if the person refused to submit to a security search.

    • #68
  9. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):
    That “security search required us to stand in a long line, and then, among other inconveniences, required me to perform what for me is the embarrassing task of removing my belt (whether or not logical, removing my belt is such a part of getting undressed that I can’t think of it any other way, and I detest removing my belt in public even more than I dislike removing my shoes). 

    I purposely didn’t wear a belt. Of course, normally I wear suspenders anyway, but I was a bit dressier for court, but didn’t want to show up the lawyers, so I went in at a medium level with pants that don’t have suspender buttons. I figured I should be fat enough to hold my pants up without a belt. Besides, my only belt has a fairly big hunk of metal as the buckle.

    Still, I understand what you’re saying. I had also emptied all my change out of my pockets, didn’t bring my cell phone, etc. using as light a profile as I could.

    • #69
  10. Slow on the uptake Thatcher
    Slow on the uptake
    @Chuckles

    Arahant: No, ladies, yoga pants are not appropriate for wearing in court.

    Why not? I see them at church.  

    • #70
  11. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Slow on the uptake (View Comment):

    Arahant: No, ladies, yoga pants are not appropriate for wearing in court.

    Why not? I see them at church.

    🤦‍♂️😒🙄

    • #71
  12. Mister Dog Coolidge
    Mister Dog
    @MisterDog

    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu (View Comment):

    Arahant: Despite being a hermit and curmudgeon in my normal dealings

    This warranted a big “like” from me. Keep up the good work, Ara, but from now on we’ll call you Herm-Curm. (The is from one oftentimes Herm-Curm to another.) For the many years I lived in Los Angeles, I got a fair number of jury enlistment notices. I tore up every one which, I suppose, made me a bad citizen. I think that’s what most people in Los Angeles do, except those who get a monthly check for being unemployed, on welfare, on disability, or for being entitled to some other long-term/permanent couch potato status (approximately 50% of LA residents) that entitles them to non-stop and substantial subsidies and plenty of time to hang out in jury rooms.

    Not a good idea here in Alaska. My son ignored his call up and was soon informed by letter that he warrant out on him. He was given the choice of completing a term or three days in jail. 

    • #72
  13. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    I have been called numerous times, but only served on juries twice – both civil cases.  I will never be seated on a criminal jury as I was the victim of a violent crime. (There was one assault case where the defendant had knifed someone. I was called for the panel. When they got to the question of had anyone be the victim of a violent crime, I raised my hand. When asked what happened, I stated I had been stabbed by someone who got 2-1/2 to 10 for assault as a result. The defense attorney looked at the judge. He did not say anything, but the judge said, “This juror is dismissed.”)

    The two civil cases where I got impaneled were desperation choices. (No one wants engineers on civil cases.) I was living in a small city where virtually everyone (except me) worked for the state prisons or the MP RR (or was related to someone who did).  So, I was one of only twelve people in an initial panel of 60 who qualified.

    • #73
  14. Jim Kearney Contributor
    Jim Kearney
    @JimKearney

    My first juror experience was a murder trial, over 20 years ago. It lasted three weeks, including a Christmas break. If even one of the dozens of nearby reporters had realized what was going on in our courtroom, it could have torn L.A. apart racially during holiday season. Given the multiple satellite uplinks in the Santa Monica courthouse parking lot, the story could have even gone national, or global. Fortunately, the reporters were totally fixated on the O.J. Simpson civil trial in the adjacent courtroom, and never bothered to check out the drama unfolding next door.

    The defendant wore glasses and was around my own age, a black family man and popular bus driver with no criminal record. The deceased was a Latino immigrant, a security guard, who had raced over, yelling in Spanish, and trained a loaded pistol at forehead of the bus driver, who sat on the stair steps of their apartment building smoking a cigarette. Due to an earlier incident where the security guard had waved a gun around, the bus driver had tucked a gun in the back of his trousers. He used it to fire several quick shots in self-defense. Only the final shot was in dispute as self-defense: was it part of a quick sequence, or was it a coup de gras, administered late, to kill an already disabled attacker?

    I was told after the trial that the prosecution had been a contentious one in the city offices, where racial sensitivities are not unknown. The black bus driver with no criminal record and a very strong self-defense argument had been jailed for months awaiting trial, while Latino prosecutors meant to protect the rights of an illegal immigrant who hadn’t had the time to get off a shot. So local news could have had a field day with this one.

    Extensive ballistic and forensic evidence were presented. A famous firearms expert who usually testified on behalf of law enforcement officers was called by the defense. We jurors handled the gun, to test how quick its action. Photos of bruises helped ascertain the moment of death. Was the deceased on the ground or in mid-air when the final bullet entered his head? Most of the jurors were white and well educated, with several lawyers and academics in our number. There was one tougher type, who rode down to the Santa Monica courthouse from the Valley on the 405 freeway every day on his motorcycle, a strong #2A man like myself.

    Deliberations were brief, but they did extend through lunch, and the defendant’s bus had already left for jail. By the time he was delivered back to court, it was late Friday. The defendant knew he’d been found innocent when he heard us all laughing it up in the jury room moments before delivering our verdict. The defense lawyer invited us to a party at his home to celebrate his client’s long sought vindication. He was soon to retire after many years of practice, and told us it was the first time he’d ever been able to present irrefutable character evidence on behalf of a defendant.

    • #74
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