Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Jury Duty: Day 2

 
There were a lot fewer potential jurors in the assembly room this morning. That’s because Panel #13 was told not to come in today so only my panel (#14) was there. There are about 100 people on each panel.

Yesterday we watched the video on the monitors hanging from the ceiling. We might be selected for either a Civil trial or a Criminal trial. There are six jurors in a civil case and twelve in a criminal case. A typical case lasts two or three days. Potential jurors wait in the assembly room until a trial that’s already in progress needs a jury. A subgroup of us will be selected and shuffled off to the courtroom where jury selection takes place.

At 9:20 the Sheriff’s Official began taking attendance in the assembly room. She read out everyone’s name and we had to shout out “here” if we really were here. It was just like grade two, including the few who shouted out “present” just to be different. Since we have to pass by the Sheriff’s desk as we enter the room, it’s not clear to me why we couldn’t just have signed in when we arrived instead of wasting 12 minutes in a roll call. A sign-in would have spared us having to listen to someone mispronounce our names. You have to wonder why someone who does this every single day wouldn’t have learned how to pronounce “Nguyen” by now.

At 10:30 another Sheriff’s Official showed up. She had just received word from the judge that jury selection in her trial was going to be delayed due to legal issues. Since that was the only trial that might have required a jury we were dismissed for today. (There are 50 courtrooms and 40,000 cases per year. This gives you some idea of how few of them require a jury.)

Come back tomorrow at 9AM.

11 comments :

  1. Sounds suspiciously like how we used do it this side of the border. In the last 5 years or so, the system in New York State has been changed so that most people have only to check a computer list (or call a toll free number) to see if they have to come in at all. Those who do have to come in only have to be there for one day if they are not selected for a jury.

    If you want advice on how not to be selected ...

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  2. In my experience, if you actually get to the jury selection step, letting them know you are a scientist is an excellent way to get dismissed. Places I've been, lawyers do not like the prospect of scientists on the jury.

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  3. That experience was in southern California, USA.

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  4. Just remember ... they say if it goes to a jury trial, the defendant is almost certainly guilty. So that saves a lot of trouble paying attention and stuff.

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  5. As we lawyers say to any client that insists on going to trial: "Just remember that your fate will be decided by 12 people too stupid to get out of jury duty!"

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  6. mustafa mond, fcd says,

    In my experience, if you actually get to the jury selection step, letting them know you are a scientist is an excellent way to get dismissed. Places I've been, lawyers do not like the prospect of scientists on the jury.

    Not being exactly a Spring chicken, I've done this jury thing before. So far I've never been asked to serve on a jury. If anyone wants to hear my advice all you have to do is email me.

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  7. I'm jealous. Here in Silicon Valley, California, the average trial length is close to three weeks. The lawyers don't like scientists or engineers, but I had to serve once because in a pool of maybe 60 potential jurors, they couldn't find 12 who weren't scientists or techies of some sort, at least not before the lawyers ran out of peremptory challenges.

    Karen

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  8. I went through jury selection once in the mid-90s. The prosecutor planned to use DNA evidence, which was a fairly new thing at the time. She was tossing out pretty much anyone who could spell DNA.

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  9. OK... I would like to point out that we are obviously being too cynical here.

    Modern society, for all it's ills, is a great advancement over, say, he Dark Ages, and one of those advances is our system of Justice (in all its various manefestations across different nations). The fact that any of us can be called to jury duty is quite impressive and a very good thing.

    I have no doubt that Larry would have done his duty effectively, and clearly, he was not trying too hard to get out of it.

    Also, I'll add this: The only place I ever did jury duty was in Massachusetts. There, there is NO WAY to get out of jury duty. They have very strict rules, everyone must participate. If you are directly involved in a case they just move you to a new case. Many people end up showing up for the three days and going home, but nobody gets to talk because they are "smart" a professor, etc.

    (The dismissal ... like if you can spell DNA ... is also limited. There are something like two preemptive challenges and no more per side. )

    The Mass. system was invented about 15 years ago or so and has been adopted by many other states, and from Larry's description, it sounds like a very similar system going on there.

    In other words, all the things you hear about how to get out of jury duty are probably out of date rumors. In Massachusetts, for instance, the following will NOT get you out of jury duty:

    You are a judge
    You are a prosecutor
    You are a cop
    You are an elected official
    You are an expert in an area of evidence to be used in a trial.

    What WILL get you out of jury duty:

    You are closer than cousin relatedness to anyone involved
    You are one of the parties in the case
    You are married to on of the parties in the case.
    Not much else.

    It is also no longer true in most places (if it ever was) that if you vote you go on the jury pool list. (Maybe in Canada, but not in the US).

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  10. Greg Laden says,

    Modern society, for all it's ills, is a great advancement over, say, he Dark Ages, and one of those advances is our system of Justice (in all its various manefestations across different nations). The fact that any of us can be called to jury duty is quite impressive and a very good thing.

    I wonder if there have been any studies to confirm this point of view. Think of a modern democratic society where judges are chosen for their ability, and not because they are Democrats or Republicans. In those societies, is there any evidence to show that jury trials are more fair than those that are decided by a judge? For that matter, is there any evidence to show that American juries are better than elected American judges?

    If juries are so wonderful then why aren't they used in the Supreme Court?

    We all know of some gross miscarriages of justice perpetrated by juries. This includes famous criminal trials like the O.J. Simpson case and also civil cases like the women who got millions of dollars because she spilled hot coffee on her lap.

    Now, these may be exceptions; but then again, they not be exceptions. Does anyone have data?

    Incidently, my understanding of the history of juries is that the practice pre-dates the so-called "Dark" Ages. I believe the Greeks and Romans had jury trials.

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