Friday, November 10, 2006

How everything I knew about Jury Duty was wrong, and how it changed my view on the system. Part I.

I can not express how happy I am today. Not the "yeah" kind of happy. The kind where everyone can see a difference and everyone comments about it.

You see I got "dismissed" from service yesterday. I finally had to forcibly tap out of serving by claiming a medical reason, and I don't feel one bit of guilt about it. I have never in my life heard of anyone having the experience I had these two weeks, and while it was an excruciating experience - the lessons I learned are invaluable. So here goes....

First a little background:

I have to start out saying that over the years I have felt a good deal of guilt about my jury service dodging. You see, I sort of always felt like an asshole for shirking my duty and putting the burden on others who I always thought were just as unhappy at getting called up for service as I was. I had never met anyone who said they hadn't tried to get out of serving, and wasn't pissed about serving. So I had this preconceived notion that everyone hated to the core being called in to serve.

Since it actually takes a great amount of effort in my county to get out of jury service I decided to bite the bullet, and just get it out of the way this time so they would leave me alone for a whole year. And they will call me one year from todays date - precisely. Thank you computer databases.

When my number was called I was unhappy - but I figured I would just go in - fill out the questionnaire as I had done a previous time, and that would be that.

You see my reserve nerve for the violence that goes on in that side of the county is long dead. I don't know how many people died in the last week for obvious reasons, but last Saturday it hit 128 for the year. Thats right... someone dies in that city on average every 3 days. 10 times the national average, and was actually named in the top 10 most dangerous cities this year. Since I was a kid, it has never gotten better, only worse despite being surrounded on all sides by endless opportunity. This isn't Detroit folks.

So understandably I thought that clearly stating in my questionnaire that I could not be an objective juror would have immediately have gotten me tossed. And honestly I was being truthful. I blogged about it here. But it didn't. The next step was the "getting to know you phase" in which the judge questioned you about your history.

The first juror to be questioned was a full on dissenting Berkeley grad. This set up a series of events that started to unfold that I wouldn't fully comprehend for two days.

The first day 15 jurors had gotten questioned by the judge, and 12 seated. I wasn't happy about only getting through 15 people for the day, considering by my count there were roughly 120 people to go through. 3 people had been dismissed, but I thought since the other 12 had been seated it was only a matter of picking the alternates. I thought, "we'll be done tomorrow".

On day 2 we came in, and the lawyers for each of the three defendants and the prosecution got the chance to question those 12 people and immediately started tossing people "for cause". So this meant that new people would go up to be questioned by the judge. Let me remind you that the first 12 were all highly educated people, and this set up a bizarre feedback loop.

Because these people were so smart, new people being questioned felt they had to compete with the previous persons education. What started out being a 15 minute "getting to know you" session turned into an hour for each person by the end of the second day. Not one person by this time had less than a Bachelors degree, and some had advanced degrees.

By the third day they all started pulling out every single educational course they had ever taken. Even that time they went to band camp. At this point I am starting to think the judge is just hoping the defendants will die of natural causes before he has to actually seat a jury.

Oh and it gets so much worse, but I think I will have to continue a little later today. There is so much to tell and I'm going to have to break it up into segments.


  1. I've always looked forward to serving on juries. I think it's kind of fun actually. It could be that I watched too much Matlock as a child, but I see a criminal case as a big whodunit that I get to help solve. The only time I was on a jury it was a fender bender and we argued for three days over it before the judge declared a hung jury. The jury was split exactly along educational lines, so I think that this is something that both sides take a pretty close look at.

  2. I don't feel one bit of guilt about getting out of jury duty - in my case, it's a legit financial hardship. I'm freelance, not paid for days not worked (AND have to work a certain number of hours each semester to keep my health insurance), so I'm out.

    Nope, don't feel bad at all.