Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Surviving Jury Duty

New York County Supreme Courthouse
Taken from flickr user: wallyg

I've been told that it is an honor to serve on a jury... to fulfill a service of dedication and respect for the law. Until you are called to do it. Then it is mostly just waiting and fidgeting.

I recently spent a short (thankfully) day and a half in the jury duty selection process. While I ultimately wasn't kept on as a juror I did discover several key "needs" in the time I spent in "processing".

(Note that a very special episode of Jury Duty: Day 2 appears at the end of this post. Don't pass it up. Stick with it. You'll be glad you did.)
  1. Bring entertainment: Day One was filled with me and about 100 others slumped over in waiting room chairs desperate for ANY news of what we would be doing over the course of the next several day. I had one book... which wasn't enough.
    • Sub-tip 1: Bring two books. You will get through them.
  2. Connectivity: You are going to feel isolated. You are going to feel like you've fallen in a well and no one can hear you and if they could, they couldn't reach you all the way down there. Bring a smart phone or a laptop... you are allowed. The Jurors Assembly room I was in offered free Wifi (even though it didn't work the first day).
    • Sub-tip 2(a): Don't forget your charger. Trust me. Loosing charge is an epic fail.
    • Sub-tip 2(b): Get there early enough that you can grab a chair near an electrical outlet. They go quickly because everyone else already though of this before you did and rushed in to grab the coveted seat(s).
  3. Stay Low/Keep Quiet: There's nothing worse than Yappy McTalks-a-Lot sitting next to you while you're trying to find out just who murdered who in Book 48 of the Sookie Stackhouse novels. I mean, come on people, I'm clearly reading and your concern over your spider ferns should you be here for more than a week is far beyond the last thing I want to think about. I feel your pain, really I do. But shhhh.
    • Sub-tip 3(a): This goes for your composure with the staff in the Assembly room too. Just shhh. For example: When I was handing my ballot back to the woman at the desk I opened my mouth to ask "Is that all?" meaning Am I now excused? But before a single syllable could pop free I was given a glare that sent icicles down my spine and into my shoes. "Do not ask me what you're gonna ask me." I see Susie Sunrays is not quite herself today. Thank you for your time.
  4. Tell the Truth: If you do ONE THING during your processing for jury duty just TELL THE TRUTH. Once I was called into the courtroom for the general interview (with 59 other people) I was stunned at how many people simply couldn't serve because of this or that reason. We were all asked, one at a time, if we had any prejudices or past experiences that might make it difficult to hear the case without pre-judging the defendants. A good HALF of the room "just couldn't do it". And I'm sure a number of those people had legitimate issues but I couldn't a number of folks who claimed they had issue turn to the person next to them and wink once the judge dismissed them. I mean really. Not only am I pretty sure you just committed perjury but you also thinned the herd and gave me a MUCH greater chance of getting called. Thanks.
  5. Be Patient: I was astonished that I was dismissed after a day and a half. Simple trials can last one to two weeks and more difficult ones can go on for months. Just settle into the fact that you are there, there is nothing you can do about it and try to embrace what 40 people have been telling you, "It is a great honor to serve on a jury. You are a part of a long tradition of justice." Again, thanks.
Now, those five points may seem dreary and tiresome. You might think, "God no... not me. Please, make me run laps, make me drink wheatgrass, make me watch Glitter twice in a row... anything but jury duty!" But do not forget that there are dozens and dozens of other people there from whom you can garner much entertainment. I give you an example in the form of one potential juror who sat behind me during the interview process.
Judge: Can you be completely impartial in considering this case?
Potential Juror: Yes ma'am your honor. I am so impartial. I don't even try to guess who did it on Law and Order until the last duh-duh because they're gonna trick you with a surprise and all this time you mighta thought it was this one guy but then, oh no no, they fooled you and it was this other guy the whole time. You can't never tell.
Judge: You do understand that this is not TV and there are very rarely, if ever, surprises at the last minute, correct?
Potential Juror: Yes ma'am your honor but you don't know. This one here (pointing to the prosecuting attorney) could be real slick and all.
Judge: (Exasperated) You are dismissed.
So enjoy that. Cherish it. Because contrary to the notion that "this is not TV" it might just be better than TV. It might be real drama sitting right behind you in the jurors' box and you might laugh on the inside while you are stone cold, stoic on the out.


Theresa said...


Thomas said...

Ha. Thanks.