I’ve been summoned.

I received my very first jury summons today. Not sure why, but it actually made me feel a bit more like a grownup. Jury summons are the sort of thing that everyone else I know except me and one or two other people have had experience with by this point in their lives. Most folks tend to bitch and whine about it, but I’m actually looking forward to it in part because I feel it’s much more patriotic to do my civic duty than it is to put stupid magnets with trite slogans on my bumper, but also because it’ll be an interesting and educational experience. Or at least I’m being optimistic about that possibility. I kind of suspected it was coming as a few weeks back I received my first ever potential juror questionnaire and that’s usually a pretty good sign that someone finally got around to putting my name in the hat.

It’ll be interesting to see if my atheism ends up playing any kind of a role in determining whether or not I’m selected for a jury. Seems a lot of atheists end up being dismissed for no other apparent reason so who knows? I’ll find out come August 3rd and, if nothing else, it should be something worth blogging about.

10 thoughts on “I’ve been summoned.

  1. Since you may be a juror, you may wish to learn more about what it actually means to serve on a jury. The judge will try to tell you that your only concern as a juror is to decide whether the accused did or did not violate the law, but the fact is that a juror also has the ability, if not the responsibility, to return a verdict of “not guilty” if they feel that the law which was “broken” is unjust to begin with.

    Mentioning this while in voir dire (the jury selection interview process) is a sure way to guarantee that you will NOT be included on a jury. It may also guarantee that you will be branded a “trouble maker” and never again be called for jury duty- which may be a good or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it.

    You may want to google for the phrase “jury nullification” to read more about yet another way that the wool has been pulled over our eyes.

  2. I envy you.  I enjoyed very much the one time I was actually called onto a jury—alas, since then, I’ve never had the luck of the draw.

  3. I was bored to distraction when I was called for Jury Serice. It entailed days of sitting around waiting for something to happen (reading Batman graphic novels if I remember. That got some sideways glances from my fellow jurors!) followed by half a day on a no-brainer not guilty. Bored, bored, bored! Of course, it may be more fun on your side of the pond.

  4. John, thanks for the tip. I was aware of that option, but I’ve not read up a whole lot on it so perhaps some reading is in order.

    Steg, perhaps I can garner a few stares of my own with the latest HP novel. If I haven’t already finished it by the time my date comes up.

  5. Jury duty is (shrugs) “Eh.”  I don’t mind actually doing it so much, it’s interesting to see the system at work (no comment on whether that system is flawed or not).  However, at least here in Los Angeles, the logistics of serving (the people running the jury pool, the parking, etc.) sometimes leave a lot to be desired.  Also, you can get some pretty nasty judges—nasty to the prospective jurors, I mean!  I had to go a couple of weeks ago.  The judge this time was pretty cool, but he didn’t seem too smart (despite having served as a judge for eleven years).

    …but the fact is that a juror also has the ability, if not the responsibility, to return a verdict of “not guilty

  6. Both times I was called for jury duty (in Florida) the judge told me the same thing. I wasn’t selected either time- the first time I was interviewed for a drunk driving case and was not eligible because I knew the victim’s brother, and the second time I was called to sit in the pool but never called up to be interviewed (i.e. the day was a total waste.)

    After the first time, I started doing some reading about what jury duty was all about, and where the idea of having a jury originally came from. The idea of having a jury whose authority overrules any judge or government official dates back to the Magna Carta. It was seen as a “last line of defense” against a king, judge, or other official abusing their power.

    The American founding fathers thought that was pretty cool, so they kept the same idea when setting up the legal systems for the various states, and then for the constitutional government. History shows a steady succession of court cases where juries have found people innocent when the jurors didn’t agree with an un-popular or unjust law, and several laws have actually been overturned by this practice of “jury nullification.”

    About 80 years ago, judges and most lawyers stopped telling people that the job of a juror involved using their conscience. They weren’t blatanly telling people that their conscience should NOT be used, but they also weren’t telling peole that they SHOULD be used either… after all, it’s not the court’s fault if the jurors are un-informed enough to not know about their rights, is it?

    About the same time, the public schools stopped emphasizing that aspect of jury duty when teaching about it. Now, the only people who still know about this are people who are old enough to have learned it in school (you notice that people above a certain age are “excused” from jury duty) or people who have done the research and figured it out on their own.

    Jury nullification is not illegal, but the court system frowns on it because it makes more work for them, and removes the judge’s almost absolute control over what happens in the courtroom. This is part of why the interview you as part of becoming a juror- if the court figures out that you truly understand your job as a juror, you are guaranteed to not be selected to serve on a jury and may actually be “flagged” in the system to not be “randomly” selected for jury duty in the future.

    This is about as much as I’ve learned from the reading I’ve done- I may be missing something, but I do know that in Florida at least, there is no law against it- it’s frowned upon by the judicial system, but it is fully legal because it is the very definition of what it means to be a juror.

    Again, google for “jury nullification” and/or “fully informed juror”, do some research, and make up your own mind.

    After all- if a jury is not expected to use their conscience, then every case boils down to a simple comparison of “what happened” versus “what the law says”… and you don’t need a jury for that kind of a simple comparison of facts.

  7. I went to Jury Duty, I didn’t even make it into the selection process, spent something like 8-10 hours there (beureaucratic error?). It was mind-numbing. At least we had board games. Played Trivial Pursuit. I so would have won if we weren’t dismissed just at my last question. If I remember correctly, there was even dial-up internet access for people who brought laptops. Hopefully I’ll have one before next time I get called.

  8. I’ve been called twice.  The first time, it was a case in Federal court, since it involved a state employee.  There were 14 of us called for a single trial, of which 7 were selected.  It was a sexual harrassment trial, so I wasn’t particularly surprised when all but one man was dismissed, myself included.  However, I was surprised that the one man they kept seemed to be the most vocal about not wanting to be there, and was poorly dressed.

    As I said, that was my first experience.

    In the light of that selection, the second experience makes more sense.  This was a standard jury duty call, with the notice that it could be for as long as two weeks.  However, when we got there, we found that there was only one trial scheduled to start that day, and they asked for 12 volunteers for that trial.  The 12 people who volunteered for the trial would be excused from all further jury duty for the two week period, whether they were selected or not.  Naturally, I piped up and volunteered (hey, I get out of 2 weeks’s service for a one-day trial: no brainer, right?). I was one of five who stood up and volunteered, of the 40 or so people there.  The remaining seven were randomly drawn.

    Cut to the courtroom.  6 of us are to be selected for the jury out of the 12 person pool.  The case this time is a young man accused of DUI.  They proceed to ask us about our employment, our spouses’s employment, age.  Basic information.  Then they start asking general questions to the crowd; speak up if this applies to you:  Would you have a problem evaluating the facts of this type of case?  Have you or your family been a victim of drunk driving?  Have you ever been convicted of a DUI?

    So we had one dude who’s cousin was killed by a drunk driver.  Judge asks him if he thinks that would affect his objectivity in a DUI case.  Dude says, “I don’t think so, but I’m not sure.”  Judge says, “Fair enough.  Do you want to stay?”  Dude says, “I guess so.”

    There’s Juror number 1.

    I got two batshit militant Mormons sitting right in front of me, including this woman who starts going on about how wrong drinking is, and how it’s against her religion, etc.  Dude next to her has to chime in about what a good Mormon he is, too, and says the same stuff.  Judge goes through the same routine, “Well, do you think you could put your beliefs aside and fairly judge the evidence?”  Again, a pair of half-hearted probabilities.

    Jurors 2 and 3.

    Now we come to Dirtbag, the dude who came to jury duty in cutoffs and a barely washed T-shirt.  No socks, unshaven, hair probably cut by his crack-head girlfriend.  He responds when the Judge asks if anyone had had a DUI.  Same set of questions, and again, the dude says, “Yeah, I think I can be objective.”

    Juror 4.

    Juror 5 I don’t remember, probably just an average shmuck like me.

    Juror 6 took the cake, in my opinion.  We had this elderly, apparently hard-of-hearing Korean gentleman.  Seemed like a nice guy.  I don’t know for sure, because he neither understood, nor spoke English.  He had a court-appointed translator, who had to give the judge all her credentials during the exam.  Chick was very professional, had been doing it for 6 years, licensed and certified.  Judge asks the old dude, “Can you understand the trial?”

    “No, I can’t understand you.” he says through her.

    “No, I mean can you understand what I’m saying through your translator?” the Judge clarifies.

    “No, I don’t understand you.”

    “No, sir.  Can you understand your translator, what she is saying to you?”

    “Oh, yes, I understand her.”

    “Good enough.”

    I mean, this just staggered me.  That he had to ask this guy 3 different times, in 3 different ways if he understood what was going on; shouldn’t that be a clue that if he doesn’t understand this straight-forward question, he’ll have some trouble with the trial?

    Now, we did’t find out who was on the jury until after the lawyers dismissed the folks they didn’t want, but these were the people who were left standing.  I answered maybe 3 questions, simply and without problem, and the rest of the dismissed were in the same boat.  We were all employed, reasonably well-spoken, and literate.

    Those are the things that will get you kicked from a jury.

    My wife, a senior investigator for an insurance company, tells me the same things over and over again.  Lawyers want the dumb, the poor, the angry on their juries.  Anything that will cause confusion, or the type of people they feel will be easily influenced.  A trial is a popularity contest.  The attorney with the best personality, who connects with the jury is going to win 99% of the time.

    Kinda fucked up, if you ask me.

    But hey, have fun.  Just watch your fellow jurors, and see if you can predict who will still be standing when the shooting’s done.  You want a better chance of being on the jury?  Act a bit angry and fidgety, play down your intelligence, and make some off-the-wall comments.  Seems to work.

  9. Act a bit angry and fidgety, play down your intelligence, and make some off-the-wall comments.  Seems to work.

    Rub a brick and a stick together, tell them “Grog make fire”. 

    Dumb jokes aside, my only jury call so far was for a dui.  Didn’t get picked, but when the lawyers sent us outside the first time so they could discuss us, they told one lady who was a member of MADD she didn’t have to come back in, she wasn’t being picked, along with a couple others.  They weren’t being asses, it was actually funny the way it played out.  One lady who did get picked was an elementary teacher who they questioned a good bit.  She talked about settling kids’ disputes by looking at whatever evidence there may be and listening to each one’s story.  Seems to go against what Skippy says.  I had the impression from questioning that the dui case was dealing with the dude driving while taking some kind of decongestant/medicine, and it was the cop’s call on his condition.  Makes me wonder if the whole case was grey area enough they wanted somebody whose brain wouldn’t lock up thinking through it.

  10. I’ve only been called up for jury duty once.  I ended up getting selected and we served as the jury for a murder trial, which made things interesting.

    We ended up finding the defendant guilty.  So many of the jurors just wanted to go with their feelings, but when we finally got them to actually lay out the facts and then compare it with the laws, it was clearly not a case of “self defense” since he’d used excessive force.  Anyway, so we found him guilty, but then when we went in to debate sentencing there were people on two sides and neither of the sides would completely budge (or, some of the people, rather) so we had a hung jury and the judge called a mistrial.

    It was a really interesting experience; I just wish some of the other jurors had been more rational.

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