Jury duty tomorrow

Maybe. Being on sabbatical means I had no excuse to skip it, but what do you think the odds are that the lawyers send me away for being a godless sciencey nerd? I’ll prepare for a long day, but I kind of expect I’m not the kind of person they’ll want to serve — you know, all weird and stuff, not representative of the community.

But I wouldn’t mind experiencing it all!


  1. Sean Boyd says

    I’ve been called to serve three times, I think. Never made it through voir dire to actually being a member of a jury. Most recent (about 3 or 4 years ago): I can’t remember the precise wording of the question that (probably) got me kicked off…something about ability to convict based only on officer testimony, as opposed to clear physical evidence on the order of DNA match, or video footage, or some such. (The case was a violation of restraining order case, IIRC.) My answer implied that I didn’t take a police officer’s word as more reliable than mere mortals.

  2. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I was called for jury duty while the Redhead was bed ridden, and I was her primary caregiver. I was excused from serving. I expect I’ll be called again in the near future (next couple of years). I expect it would be an interesting experience if allowed to serve. Personally, I would expect to be rejected by one side due to my background.

  3. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    I got called once, but the case was settled before they tried to seat anyone. Which is just as well; turns out it was a case of sexual assault on a disabled person; would’ve been painful to sit through.

  4. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I’d like to sit on a jury to experience it once, but never had the chance. Then again, because I know the magic words “jury nullification” and I live in California, I suspect I would have to lie (under oath) in order to make it past voir dire. Not sure if I would. It would be interesting to see if and how they try to identify candidates that know what jury nullification is, without explaining what it is. I heard a friend of mine explain the roundabout way that one lawyer does it – something like “do you agree to follow the orders of the court blah blah blah?”. In a more flippant moment, I might answer “as long as they’re not unlawful”. And if they said “do you agree to follow the orders of the court on what is lawful and not lawful?”, and I would say “No – have you heard of Nuremberg?”. That probably wouldn’t go over well. Yea, I’m the best. /s

  5. kestrel says

    Oh – I am on the list to be called right now. They will not select me, alas. I wish they would.

    I remember Mark Twain saying how they wanted to find 12 people who knew nothing about a case, when the very dogs in the street knew about it, and if they did find someone who knew nothing they would be worse than useless. We do have a weird system here in the US.

  6. says

    The hardest part of jury duty was staying awake through it all. The second time I had it, the bailiff gently waked me a time or two. I was an alternate on that one, and not needed for the actual verdict, though the other alternate and I did turn out to have felt the same way the rest of the jury had (that the prosecutor hadn’t made a case).

  7. Cuttlefish says

    First jury duty I had, I was certain I had enough reasons that they would dismiss me.

    Alas, no.

    They requested that I be foreperson.

    forecephalopod? Whatever.

  8. says

    I’ve been called, but never empaneled. Last time I was cut was technically pre-voir dire. It was in response to a ridiculously broad question that should never have been asked that way, but, once asked, I answered honestly and that honest answer was pretty much guaranteed to boot me.

    The wording was very close to,

    This being a case for a prostitution offense, is there any belief that any here hold that may tend to make it more difficult for you to render an unbiased verdict?

    Again, it’s a completely stupid question. Every single person should have answered yes to this. We all hold beliefs that “may tend to make it more difficult” to decide a case without bias. The much more relevant questions are, “Does it actually make it more difficult?” and then, the ultimate question, “Is there a reasonable/significant chance you may not be able to overcome that difficulty?”

    Instead, I said, “Yes.” The judge asked me what that belief was. I explained that I had looked into the history of anti-prostitution laws as one part of my anti-violence work and that the state has consistently represented these laws as necessary for the protection of women. Yet study after empirical study has shown that laws criminalizing the acceptance of money in exchange for sexual contact and other sexual services cause harm to women. These undeniable facts reduce the credibility of the government seeking to enact, maintain, and enforce such laws.

    The judge asked me if that meant I was unable to render a fair verdict. I replied that it did not, but whether or not I was able to render a fair verdict was not the question the judge asked. I then repeated the judges question in all its vague glory. And I said that although I believe I’m able to render a fair verdict, the answer to the vague question is, “Yes,” that belief of mine “may tend to make it more difficult” to render a verdict without bias.

    The judge paused, said I could sit down, and looked at the attorneys handling the case. I looked apologetically at the defendant who actually looked back appreciatively at me even though i’d just sabotaged any chance of my being a sympathetic juror at her trial. Then the judge apparently decided not to wait for me to get dismissed for cause by the prosecution and asked me to stand, then once I was standing, gave me my formal dismissal.

    It was weird as fuck. I still don’t know why the judge would have phrased the question in such a massively vague way, nor do I understand why there was any person in the room who failed to answer “yes”, much less all the persons save me.


  9. ianjs says

    I got called up years ago, and I’m ashamed to say my first reaction was “ok, what do I do to get out of this”.

    My Better Half chided me for being so irresponsible and took about two seconds to remind me that the system relies on citizens taking their duty seriously. She was right of course, and I have to say, the experience was an insight into the legal system that everyone should have.

    I’m sure it has its flaws. The jury selection process narrowed my eyes a bit, and I’m sure there are biases built in so that you’re behind the eight ball if you’re poor or otherwise disadvantaged.

    Overall though, it felt like the system tried to reach the truth and get a fair outcome. At least in principle, and at least in Australia.

  10. FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!) says

    I was called for jury selection once. It was weird. This was in the province of Alberta Canada.

    They called people up and told the court your name and occupation, that’s it. Then the defence and prosecution for to say yes or no, and you got to give a reason for begging off of you had one.

    With no questioning of the potential juror how the hell is this nothing other than an exercise is the most basic of prejudices: judging folks by their appearance?

  11. vucodlak says

    I’ve never been called for jury duty, but I can’t imagine I’d get seated. I’d have to tell the agents of the state that I couldn’t vote for any option that could lead to prison time for anyone, because in my view the penal system is cruel, racist, and uneven in its “justice.” I can’t pretend I think the system is anything like fair, I can’t pretend I have the slightest respect for our laws or the agents thereof, and I can’t, in good conscience, send someone into our prison system.

  12. nomdeplume says

    Only in America, and Saudi Arabia, would being an atheist have you instantly dismissed from jury duty, while being a fundamentalist would have you welcomed with open arms!

  13. says

    My sympathies, PZ.
    I do not know what your opinions about juries are, but I personally think it is an antiquated and obsolete system.

  14. microraptor says

    I’ve gotten a notice that I was on the list for jury duty twice in my life, the second time was actually last month.

    In both instances, my juror number was so high that it never even got halfway to my number being selected before the month ended. The first time, my mom got tapped for jury duty the month after I did and ended up on the jury for one of the county’s most high-profile murder trials in the last few decades.

    Well, at least the good news is that Minnesota doesn’t have the death penalty. So that’s not an issue.

  15. Elladan says

    I was on a jury once. It was municipal court, so the stakes weren’t really high enough for the lawyers to bother asking much beyond “Are you related to the defendant?” and “Were you arrested recently?”

    The defendant was guilty as hell of the heinous crime of driving with a suspended license. What was more memorable was how the public defender looked like she was working about 600 cases and hadn’t slept in weeks, while the prosecutor could clearly afford to spend money and time on a special court costume and fancy hair.

  16. pardalote says

    That could be interesting. Do you know anything of the history of juries?

    To a large extent the idea of juries and a jury trial descended from the Germanic/Scandinavian societies of long ago. Those consisted of numerous more or less independent tribes and groups. The aim was not to find the truth or determine whether the defendant carried out the action, but rather to come up with a result which mollified the two parties; as a way of preventing continuing feuds and internecine war. This was the system brought to England by the Saxons and then Normans. (and then disseminated from there)

    On the other hand in most European countries, trial is by judge alone. Their system comes from the Roman system which had praetors or judges whose job was to determine the truth of the matter and then decide what laws were broken and then an appropriate punishment to satisfy the Authorities and to uphold the authority of the central Republic/Empire.

    It has often been said that if you are guilty it is better to be tried under the jury system (since they get it wrong so often) while if you are innocent you are better off under the European system.

  17. Dunc says

    Here in Scotland, jury selection is random (they literally pull numbers out of glass bowl) a and the only reason you can be disqualified from serving is if you know or are related to someone directly involved in the case. I’ve done it once, at the High Court, on a triple attempted murder case… It was pretty harrowing – all the more so because you’re not allowed to talk about any of the details with anybody outside the jury room. I really think the courts should offer counselling to jurors on serious trials.

    There certainly are a lot of problems with the jury system, but there are also a lot of problems with the alternatives. Personally, I think its advantages outweigh its disadvantages, and I also favour sortition for most public offices.

  18. Wrath Panda says

    Been called up twice here in England. Each time, two weeks of sitting around in a room full of people who are as equally bored as you are. We did get a decent card school going the first time around at least. The process a bit more straightforward here. If you are on the electoral register, you can be called up. Used to be that if you got selected, you were immune from further selection for 10 years. I guess they were running out of people though because that got dropped to 2 years. For each case 15 people are selected, of which 12 are then drawn at random to sit.

    Caught a case on each call up, one for ABH and one for possession of firearms (which the Police somehow managed to lose from the evidence locker. Something for which the Judge politely asked the jury to leave the room before reading said Police the riot act). We let them off both times. Could they have done what they were accused of? Quite possibly. Did the prosecution put forward a compelling case? Nope. I wasn’t prepared to be responsible for the incarceration of a person on what amounted to he said/she said alone.

    Coincidentally, when I was but a youth, I had aspirations of becoming a journalist. I did my work experience with the local newspaper and spent a good chunk of a day sat in the press box of the magistrates court. It’s no more exciting from their viewpoint either, though hearing the prosecution and defence discussing their respective strategies with each other during a brief recess was something of an eye opener.

  19. Richard Hershberger says

    Full disclosure: I am a paralegal, working for a litigator. I occasionally attend trials, usually if the client needs hand-holding.

    That being said, jury selection varies wildly depending on where you are, so it is hard to generalize in any useful way. But here goes:

    Remember that there are two types of trial: criminal and civil. Stuff that might matter for one may not for the other. You think police are all thugs? It doesn’t matter in a traffic accident case where the real argument is over the medical bills. You are a godless sciencey nerd? There may be cases where this would come out in voir dire and one or the other lawyer would boot you, but many more cases where it wouldn’t.

    Also, a potential juror is not a single characteristic that one side will see and hate. A case in point, one trial I did attend was over a simple traffic accident. Our client was driving down a city street. The other driver blew through a stop sign on a side street. The only reason we were in court was that the policeman botched the accident report, getting reversed which driver was where. The other driver saw dollars signs and filed a claim. This eventually made its way into a courtroom where the jury was asked to decide which car was where.

    How do you argue a case like this, which is on its face a he-said she-said? Most people are bad at lying. They can do the simple part: “I was in the main street.” But they are lousy at building a consistent story around that. Where had they been? What had they been doing there? How long? Who with? And where were they going to? A good liar can beat this line of questioning, but in this case she wasn’t nearly smart enough for that.

    So to the jury: The foreman was a guy both sides wanted there. We wanted him because he was carrying a a book to read in his down time. I don’t remember what it was, but something pretty academic. He was a young guy with a “grad student” air to him. So we figured that he would be smart and accustomed. to analyzing information. So why did the other side want him? (I assume the lawyer by this time knew his client was lying, though he probably didn’t when he first took the case.) The foreman was black, as was the other driver, while our client was white. My guess is the other lawyer was doing a mental high-five when this guy was impaneled.

    We won. The judge commented when talking to the lawyers afterwards that the jury got it right. As a point of information, I have spoken informally with many lawyers over the years, working both sides and both criminal and civil. Even talking over beers with no recording devices present, they consistently say that juries usually get it right.

  20. says

    Called and would have had a chance to sit on a jury if the guy hadn’t taken a plea that day.

    The county paid me, like, 8-10 dollars for doing nothing. I don’t mind that part!

  21. DonDueed says

    Massachusetts has a “one day or one trial” system. I’ve been summoned five or six times (the last couple times I’ve been medically excused).

    The unpleasant part is hanging around all day waiting to be empaneled. A couple times my pool was sent home, once before noon. I was empaneled twice. One of those times the trial was about to start when we were informed that a plea had been reached and we were dismissed.

    I did serve on one jury, a DWI case. It seemed pretty straightforward — there was a high breathalyzer test and the defendant admitted drinking and taking a cold medicine that included alcohol. But during the deliberations I looked at the breath test tape, and discovered that the date didn’t match the date of the arrest! We asked the judge for help on how to deal with that, and got a non-committal answer (basically it was up to us to weigh that information). In the end we convicted anyway. I was conflicted about it, but I decided that if the defendant and his lawyer were too dumb to notice that issue (it was never brought up in testimony), the fact that they had essentially admitted to the DWI carried the day.

    I dodged a bullet one other time, though. My jury pool was one of two brought into a courtroom to be empaneled. The case was described, and turned out to be a sexual assault on a minor. There was an audible gasp from the prospective jurors; my heart sank. Fortunately they started empaneling with the other jury pool and never got to me. That day was the one where the case I was finally empaneled for was settled by plea. I was very glad to walk out of the courthouse that day.

  22. says

    The first trial I was empaneled for, by the way, offered a certain grim amusement value, in the form of a defendant who was absolutely certain that if we looked at his photos and measurements of the intersection where he was ticketed, we’d all agree he couldn’t possibly have run the stop sign. We looked. We didn’t agree.

  23. tbp1 says

    I’ve been on two juries, one criminal, one civil. While the outcome certainly mattered to those involved, the stakes were relatively low in both cases, which I was happy about.

    It was very interesting, I must say, and I was impressed by how seriously everyone on the juries took the matter. They really wanted to get it right (and I think we did, in both cases).

    The other times I’ve been called for duty I haven’t gotten empaneled. I really dodged a bullet on one of them; I went through voir dire on what ended up being a very long and contentious trial, but wasn’t chosen.