I am 42 years old, and at my first ever jury duty. My only idea of how jury duty goes was from the episode of Sex and the City where Carrie has to report for jury duty and the man next to her keeps bringing weird fruits in his briefcase.
So far, it’s been uneventful. We had to do a security check to get in the building (got to keep my shoes on, woo hoo!) by a cute security guy. When we got to the room, we were greeted by Larry the jury clerk. I was expecting a gruff civil servant but Larry was so relaxed and calm he really set the tone for if not a pleasant, then a tolerable experience. He answered a bunch of questions but then stated, “ask your questions now, because I won’t field them later. If you came in late, or tuned me out to read your newspaper, you can ask them later, but I will smile passively-aggressively at you.”
This is what happens:
- You sit in a “jury pool” room for two days. This is your tour of duty. If during that time there aren’t any cases that need jurors, then you have fulfilled your duty, and are exempt from jury service for another six years.
- But, what is intended to happen is that a judge will call for jurors for a case. You and 99 of your new jury duty friends get called to a courtroom, where the judge/lawyers will start to question the jurors to get the kind of jury he/she wants. They only need 12-14 jurors, so most of you will go back to the jury pool waiting room to see if you get selected by another judge.
- This continues until the two days are up, or you are selected for a jury.
- If you are selected as a juror, you then report for that case until it’s done. This is where people get scared. Would the trial go on for weeks or months? Larry seemed to express that a month-long case is a rarity. It seems that jury duty for a few days is more the norm.
So, I’m stuck here in downtown New York for today and tomorrow. I found a plug and wi-fi, so it’s not too much different than working from a coffee shop, except without the coffee and no scary homeless people.
We are allowed lunch from 1-2, and we get released between 3:15 and 5.
My friend Jon says that he got excluded by “being difficult” (i.e. having your own mind) and that he said “I believe in karma” to the judge in a medical malpractice case. These are all criminal cases. I am fascinated by the process. And would love to see how it actually works. But sadly I’m only compensated $40 per day while in a trial, and I don’t have an employer to cover me.
[END OF DAY REPORT]
Well, that was interesting. At 10 am, me and 99 other people were called in for a an armed robbery case. As soon as they said “robbery” I sudden had a twinge when I remembered the two times my car was broken into, and my home invasion in Minneapolis. I was thinking this sort of issue would exclude me from duty.
Turns out, 75% of the people that were questioned on the jury panel had experienced some sort of robbery, assault, mugging or pickpocketing. It was really sad.
What happened first is the judge asked a few basic questions:
Have any of you been convicted of a crime (or have a close friend or relative who has?) they had to form a line and talk to the judge, the rest of us sat and read books.
Do any of you have trouble understanding English? After he repeated it a few times, a chinese woman raised her hand and stood up. He asked her, “so you have trouble understanding English?” She said, “yes.” He asked, “how long have you lived in the United States?” She answered (in heavily accented English), “fifteen years.” Then the judge did something not cool. He said incredulously, “You’ve lived in New York for 15 years and still have trouble with English?” An uncomfortable ripple went through the courtroom. Does he not live in NYC? Does he not know there are sections of the city in which you can live for decades without speaking a lick of English? So great, racist (or just ignorant judge).
Then it was time for first round juror picks. 14 people were chosen at random, and had to answer from a list of questions, including things like:
- Where they live in Manhattan
- occupation/employment status
- marital status
- do they have any mental/physical problems that would prevent being on the jury
- whether they have anyone else in the household
- whether they know anyone in law enforcement or legal system
- whether they’ve been a victim of robbery/assault etc.
- whether they think they would have any prejudice towards the defendant in this case
I wish I could have heard them speaking better, it was fascinating to find out details about strangers like this. It surprised me that most jurors had a college degress, around a third of them were unemployed, and nearly all had experienced some sort of robbery or assault in their lives.