How to Get on a Jury

I wrote this post a couple weeks ago and swear I posted it, but alas, it’s still sitting my “Drafts” folder. At least it’s pertinent with all the buzz about the George Zimmerman trial this week. 🙂

 

I know that most people out there dread jury duty. But, here’s a way to reframe it: jury duty is the only civic duty that our government actually requires of us (besides the occasional draft for men). I know that doesn’t help reschedule all your appointments, get any of your work done, etc., but it is a vital function for our democracy. Plus, you can always be an optimist and be thankful you’re not in the defendant’s chair. J

And that is all the convincing I will try to do. And if you still hate jury duty, that’s okay. There are plenty of things I hate, too.

For those of you who want to stay on a jury, here is the best tip:

Stay quiet.

Lawyers are looking for the people who are going to be leaders in the jury room. They can surmise some of this from your questionnaire (level of education, community involvement, etc.), but speaking up will only confirm this. The ones who get on are the quiet ones.

Of course, this is NOT an encouragement to hide information or fail to give answers when an attorney asks a question. That is called jury misconduct. You don’t want to be the cause of having to repeat the process all over again, do you? Plus, you swore to tell the truth when the clerk had you raise your right hand.

It turns out that even staying absolutely quiet isn’t enough when your questionnaire says “Unemployed – recent law school graduate” in the “Employer” box. Oh well. I considered just putting unemployed (that is the truth), but felt that was skirting too close to the line of withholding information. No reason to risk causing problems later on.

And so, I got struck. But I was at least able to enjoy the process of being on a panel and watching a real voir dire. Additionally, it was a criminal case, which was super exciting. Here are a few observations from the day:

I have had an extremely fortunate life. There were three charges of Possession of Methamphetamine with Intent to Distribute. When the prosecutor asked how many people had a family member or close friend who had been affected by drugs, probably half of the people in the room raised their placards (there were 60 of us). Maybe I’m just naïve, but I was honestly surprised at how widespread the effect of drugs is. Many of these people had family members who were in jail or facing charges because of drug use. I realized in that moment how fortunate I am that I have never been affected by drugs.

I was also surprised by the high number of people that said they couldn’t be fair, based on personal experience or the fact that the guy had been caught three times. During law school, I got the impression that it is very difficult to get strikes “for cause” (people who are biased or prejudiced). Maybe it was just that particular panel, but it did not seem that difficult.

I don’t know if every state does this, but in Texas, you get a letter telling you the jury’s decision. In this case, the jury was merely sentencing the defendant (he had pled guilty to the offense). So last week, I got a very pleasant letter from the judge informing me of the sentence the jury decided upon. The judge also invited me to call if I had any questions, or to stop by for a cup of coffee. If I can think of something to say, I might just take him up on that offer… J

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