Best ever reason for not blogging — showing up for jury duty

I did my duty as a citizen today, when I left bright and early and headed up to the local courthouse.  Although it was a profoundly boring day, it was also an interesting experience.  You see, despite many years of lawyering, I’ve never sat on a jury, nor have I ever been part of selecting a jury.  (I’ve done a lot of behind the scenes work for jury selection, but I’ve never actually been in court for the process.)  What fascinated me was the way in which people’s attitudes changed during the day.

The system is set up so that about 50 people file into the courtroom.  Eighteen of them are seated in the jury box, with the hope that this group can be winnowed down to 12 jurors and 2 alternates.  The people in the box answer general information questions about themselves, and then provide more specific information related to the case.  First thing in the morning, anybody who could get out, tried to do so.  Once “cause” vanished (obvious conflicts such as knowing one of the lawyers or one of the defendants), the next most popular excuse was bias.  Basically, this boiled down to “Yes, I’ve had a similar experience/known someone similarly situated to the defendant/known someone similarly situated to the prosecution’s witnesses and, under those circumstances, it would be very hard for me to be unbiased in my approach to the evidence.”  As these people were excused, more people would be called to take their places.

What was so interesting was that, as the day progressed, fewer and fewer people tried to use bias as an excuse.  You’d hear the same factual offerings (similar experience or personal knowledge of people similarly situated to those in the case), but people asserted firmly that they would not be biased.  I understood why they did that.

In the morning, I’d invested minimal time in the process and just wanted out.  By the time I left 5 hours later (without ever having gotten within speaking distance of the jury box), I’d invested a lot of time in the matter and wanted to see how it ended.  It was supposed to be a short case and, thanks to the voir dire questions, I’d figured out the defense strategy.  I therefore wanted to see what the arresting officers would say, and how the lawyers for both the State and the defendant would handle the evidence.  Had I been asked about my biases, I would have stated the facts and disavowed the biases, just as everyone else did.

As it is, when I walked away, I left the story in the middle of the beginning.  Even though it had the potential to be interesting, I was denied the opportunity to find out how it would progress and then, finally, end.  So, for the first time in my life, I’m kind of looking forward to my next jury summons!

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  • David Foster

    I was on a jury, for a civil matter, quite a few years ago. Every time we started to get into a good discussion, the airhead who had been appointed Forewoman said something like, “Now, now, everyone is entitled to their opinion.”

  • Charles Martel

    Small world, Book. I’ve been summoned for jury duty at Big Pink on the 9th. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  • Bookworm

    Charles, I hope you find the experience as interesting in its boring way as I did.

  • highlander

    I’ve been on three juries so far.  My experience is that what happens in the courtroom is boring beyond words to describe, but what happens in the jury room is absolutely fascinating — and scary!  Some of the reasons fellow jurors gave for their opinions in the cases I saw were so outlandish as to leave me speechless.
    My wife sat on a jury once in a simple DUI case.  The guy was obviously guilty, but one juror disagreed.  When they finally asked him why he was holding out in the face of such overwhelming evidence, he explained that if they were still deliberating after 6:00 pm, they would get a free dinner.
    If I’m ever a defendant, I will absolutely not go for a jury trial!

  • jj

    Old jokes.  There are several versions of this old joke.  Probably the most famous deals with Air Force pilots reflecting – when barreling along at many a knot just above the treetops and pulling many a g in turns – that they are doing so in something constructed by the lowest bidder.
    An alternative version of this is when someone on trial reflects on his jury, and it occurs to him that his fate will be decided by a bunch of people too dumb to have gotten themselves out of jury duty.


    I am with you,  particularly if   a’  jury of my peers’ included someone looking for a  free ‘happy meal’ while determining my fate.
    If a  jury of one’s peers includes idiots,  can you claim a mistrial?

  • nosiafd

    Having once been selected as an alternate juror for a carjacking trial, I got to see the plot develop, yet not participate.  During the trial, the other alternate juror and I were located in the jury box but our seats not with the other jurors.  I was dismissed just as the jury was to begin deliberations.  I had read the “book”, but did not get the final chapter.

  • Charles Martel

    I’ve sat on two juries, both DUI cases.

    In the first, the defendant tried to sell us a totally implausible alibi involving jet lag, worry about a close friend who had just been hospitalized, and the accidental ingestion of sleeping pills AND champagne. We deduced that the guy probably had gone to trial in a last-ditch attempt to save his driver’s license after previous DUIs.

    His downtown San Francisco attorney treated us like bumpkins, while the plain-folks Marin County DA just kept plugging along, donkey-kicking holes through the defendant’s assertions.

    Our foreman was a calm, no-nonsense Sully Sullenberger type who ran a sharp deliberation. We took 10 minutes to bring in a guilty verdict.

    My other jury experience was for a DUI, but the experience was  strange. The defending attorney put his client on the stand to get her account of the affair. Then, when he questioned the arresting Highway Patrol officer, I could see him becoming agitated. At the end of his questioning, he approached the judge with a whispered request.

    The judge declared a recess and told us to take an early lunch. When we came back, she declared a mistrial, thanked us for our service and sent us on her way.

    I later learned that the defendant had told so many lies to her attorney that he was aghast when the officer’s account was so much at variance with what he thought were the facts of the case. Anyway, it was an interesting $5 day.

  • Bookworm

    Apropos your second account, Charles, there are few things more disturbing to an ethical attorney (and most attorneys are reasonably ethical), than to discover that the client, rather than glossing over a few difficult points, which is human nature, is lying from start to finish.  That attorney did the right thing by speaking to the judge and, one assumes, removing himself as counsel.

  • ELaineT

    I’ve been on two juries, one a three month (or so) murder trial, the other I was alternate for a perjury case.  Looking back I think I found in both cases the prosecution was more convincing.   The murder trial gave me nightmares.    It was interesting, though.  The defense tried really hard to get the accused off the hook  – we didn’t buy it, but we didn’t give him the death penalty, either.
    And the hardest thing was not to discuss stuff that came up with anyone until the trial was over and we were deliberating.  It’s unnatural!