Tuesday, March 19, 2013

My Jury Duty Adventure

I mentioned yesterday that I was going to spend the day answering my third summons for Jury Duty. Today, I'll tell you all about it. I hope you can stand the excitement.

Jury duty is one of those things we're all liable for, but no one really likes. It's an important civic duty that makes us an active participant in our justice system, but the usual response to receipt of a jury summons is often "how can I get out of this?" This is a bad approach - our system of trial by jury is mandated in the Constitution (Article 3, Section 2) and the Bill of Rights (Sixth Amendment), and it's arguably one of our most important freedoms (sorry, NRA). Being called up for jury duty isn't always convenient, but it's critically important.

I was directed to report to the Fairfax County Courthouse at 8:15 yesterday morning. Because it was miserable weather, with wet, sloppy snow and rain, I set out shortly after 7:00 for the 25-minute drive, which actually took almost 45 yucky minutes. I arrived without incident, parked in the public parking garage (jurors park for free, yippee!), and walked from there to the courthouse through the snow and rain.

At the courthouse, I had to pass through security, which involved emptying all pockets and - curiously - taking off my belt before passing through the metal detector. I then proceeded to Room 503, the Jury Assembly Room, where I joined a large throng of people who had been summoned for duty that day.

At 8:00, the doors opened, and we filed in and were checked in by a quick scan of the bar code on our summons letters. We then went into the assembly room proper, where we found seats at long rows of folding tables to wait for the next event. The room was large, reasonably comfortable, and equipped with restrooms and free wi-fi. This last point is interesting, as it's only been since January of this year that people were allowed to bring in cell phones, laptops, tablets, and other devices equipped with cameras.

At 8:30 one of the court employees came in to give us a brief summary of the day's events, which began with a video presentation on the jury selection process. The video was actually quite well done and interesting, and I learned quite a bit from watching it.

After the video, three sheriff's deputies came in, one after the other, and read off long lists of names of people who would be brought down to various courtrooms for the actual selection of juries. This was one of the most entertaining parts of the day, as the deputies struggled with the pronunciation of names. And it showed what a real slice of America was present for duty as well - there probably weren't many religious, national, or ethnic groups not represented, and the mix was about half each of men and women, all of us drawn from the county's voter registration rolls.

Once all the names had been called there were still about a quarter of the original group left ... including me. A court employee came in to tell us that the three groups had been randomly selected from among our larger randomly-selected group, and that we were still required to remain as a "strategic reserve" of potential jurors in the event that full juries couldn't be formed from the groups already selected for the various courtrooms.

At 10:00, the deputies returned and took the three groups away, and the rest of us settled down to wait for ... whatever was going to happen. I had my iPad, loaded with unread books and games, and available wi-fi, so I had plenty to do when not chatting with other prospective jurors ... no excuse for boredom.

By about 11:30, people from the first three groups started filing back in small dribbles, but nobody was released - we were told that we still needed to remain because some of the trials were having difficulty selecting juries, and we might still be needed.

In the end, shortly after 2:00 a court employee came into the room, thanked us for our service, and announced that we were free to go, and exempt from jury duty summons for the next three years. There was some difficulty with all this, because one of the people who had been summoned was a middle-aged Korean woman who - despite having been selected from the voter registration rolls like the rest of us - spoke not a word of English and didn't understand anything of what was going on (which must have made it interesting when she was actually required to vote - a good reason for requiring that citizens speak English, in my opinion).

So ...

That was my day of jury duty. Pretty much a non-event, although an important one. The right to a trial by a jury of our peers is, as I've said, a major right we enjoy as Americans. And the group of people with whom I spent the day was a true cross-section of America - young and old, male and female, wealthy and not-so-wealthy, representing just about every group you can imagine.

A comedian once said that a trial in this country involved a case argued before a judge and 12 people who weren't able to get out of jury duty. Is jury duty inconvenient? Sometimes. Is it important? You bet. It cost me a day, but I think of it as an investment in the nation in which I'm fortunate enough to live. So should you, if you are summoned.

Have a good day. Do your civic duty when asked. More thoughts on Thursday.



eViL pOp TaRt said...

"They also serve who only stand and wait" -- Milton

Was he called for jury duty?

Seriously, service as a juror is one of our important duties.

Amanda said...

Over here, if you're selected for jury duty, you have to check after 6pm each day to see if you're required to show up at the court house. And you have to do this every day, for two weeks, just in case you're needed. I think your system is better because it only takes up one day instead of two weeks.

Bilbo said...

Angel - that's probably why he wrote the words.

Amanda - we, too, have to check the night before our court date to see if our "group number" is required to report. It's only for one day, though, unless you're actually selected for a jury, in which case you serve for the duration of the trial. Oddly, the rules vary from state to state, and even within states - Fairfax County's system is different from that of the surrounding counties and independent cities, as we were told in the video presentation. It can make your head hurt.

Mike said...

In Missouri you can get called every two years. And it seems once they have your name and they know you'll show up they keep calling you. Plus they have been calling fewer people so if when you go can can be pretty sure you'll be paneled. Then if you're one of the first twelve of thirty called, you will more than likely be on the jury.

Kristen Drittsekkdatter said...

It sounds anticlimatic. Too bad you couldn't have been on a jury in Steubenville, except that was judge-handled.