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!