A few months ago, I received a juror summons in the mail, asking me to appear at the superior court this past Monday for jury duty.
Initially, I was somewhat disappointed about the timing since I had the entire summer off because I’m a teacher, so I didn’t really want to miss a day so early on in the school year. But once the date approached, I became excited because I was interested in learning more about the whole process.
People had warned me to bring a book because jury duty is usually a long day of waiting. I read the FAQs online so I would know what to bring and what to wear, and then I waited to check the website the Friday night before my Monday appearance.
I was on call for Monday, which meant that I could go to work on Monday, but I would need to check the website again that evening to see about Tuesday. I was definitely disappointed that I didn’t get to go on Monday, so when I checked the website that evening and saw my number, I was excited.
I changed my mind about my outfit so many times. I wanted to look appropriate while also being comfortable. I didn’t want to wear anything that might cause lawyers to excuse me from a jury if I got that far. I chose blue dress pants, a white and blue striped shirt, a salmon cardigan, and Sketchers brown simple shoes. I had my hair in a low ponytail. I debated not wearing my crucifix necklace because I didn’t know if they would want to avoid a religious person, but then I decided against it. If they didn’t want me because of my faith, then their loss.
The morning of jury duty was extremely boring. We reported at 8:30am to sit in a huge room full of people who looked bored and annoyed. We had the rules explained to us before checking in.
We were told that we would receive a $5 stipend for the day. I can’t believe it’s only $5. This is 2017. You can’t even go buy lunch for $5. As a teacher, my pay isn’t docked for jury duty, but I can’t imagine being someone who lives paycheck to paycheck. If they are selected for a 3-day trial, they will receive a measly $15. That seems absurd. I know that they say that a person is excused if they can prove financial hardship as a result of being on a jury, but I don’t know how lenient they are with that.
Then, we were told that if we are public school employees, we needed to tell them when checking in because we were not allowed the $5. He said that we couldn’t “be greedy.” I was not upset about the lack of $5, but found it funny that he could even say with a straight face that we would be “greedy” if we took the $5.
While in line to check in, they played a video about the importance of jury duty and our rights as citizens of the US.
By 10am, nothing had happened. Thankfully, there was wi-fi, so I actually got quite a bit of work done on my laptop. They announced a bunch of names and everyone called got to go up to a court room. I was hoping to hear my name, but I didn’t.
Around 11:40, a man told us that there were three cases and that the only one that still needed jurors would not be ready to call them up until after lunch. So while we were supposed to leave for lunch at 12:30, we got almost an entire extra hour!
I had packed lunch, planning to eat outside or in my car, but I have a friend who lives close to the courthouse, so I went to her house since she works from home. It was really nice to get to have a random Tuesday afternoon lunch with a friend since I’m usually working at that time.
After lunch, we went back to waiting. Then they started calling off more names. The line of people was getting really long, so I was not expecting to hear my name. Then I realized that they were reading the names alphabetically, so I waited in anticipation as they got closer to my name.
Sure enough, I heard, “Stephanie….” and a long pause before the woman butchered my name (typical, since I have a foreign last name). While other people were visibly upset when their names were called, I had the opposite reaction. I was absolutely ecstatic to get to go up to the court room and see the whole process. But because the group of us was so large, I knew that my chance of actually being chosen for the jury was quite small.
We entered the courtroom and each of us had to grab a pad of paper and a pencil. The judge introduced the lawyers, the plaintiff, and her family to us and then explained a brief overview of the case. It was a civil case. The defendant had hit the plaintiff’s car, which had already been admitted, but the plaintiff was suing due to health problems that she has been having in the three years since the accident.
He told us that he would be asking us 22 questions as a group and we were instructed to write down “Yes” or “No” on our notepad. Once it came time to call jurors into the jury box, anyone who responded “No” to every question could take a seat to be questioned further. Anyone who responded “Yes” had to go to speak to the judge and the lawyers to see if they could be excused from the case.
The initial 22 questions asked us things like this:
-Did we recognize the plaintiff/lawyers?
-Did we recognize the names of any of the witnesses / medical providers?
-Had we ever been involved in a lawsuit?
I was really excited when we got to question #22 and I had answered “No” to each of the questions. I was wishing that instead of randomly calling jurors, they could have just asked who answered “No” to everything and even who might volunteer to serve on the jury. I definitely would have raised my hand.
I snuck a peek at the papers that the people on either side of me had. Both of them had a few questions marked “Yes.” The man to my left was clearly aggravated with jury duty and just kept sighing through everything. And then there I was, hoping and even praying (I know, I’m ridiculous, but I really wanted to experience court) that I would get called.
Most people had answered “Yes” to at least one of the questions, so it took forever to get seven people into the jury box. Once they got to the seventh person, I was feeling disappointed.
Then the judge told them that he would ask them more questions so that the lawyers could get to know them. He explained that the lawyers had a certain number of jurors that they could excuse for any reason, which is called a peremptory challenge.
These questions went as follows:
-Occupation / former occupations if you were in other fields
-Household – spouse? his/her occupation / children? their occupations
-Favorite TV shows and new sources
-If you could speak to anyone, dead or alive, for 15 minutes, who would it be and why? (excluding anything religious and family)
-Is our country too litigious or is it too strict in its regulations that prevent people from suing others?
-Would you make a good juror and why?
Since I had all the time in the world while sitting there, I wrote down my answers to each of the questions. I was struggling with the one about which person I’d like to speak to. I’m glad that I wasn’t juror #1 because she didn’t have any extra time to think about her responses and she was visibly nervous.
I first thought of Jesus, Mother Teresa, and Gandhi, but they’re all religious. Then I thought of the machine gun preacher. Nope, still religious. I have always loved Eminem, so I wrote his name down first, but even though I love his music, I think it would actually be terrifying to speak to him in person, and I would probably have nothing to say. I settled on Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier from Sierra Leone. I thought that might be a risky answer since it’s very different from everyone else’s answer, but it was the best option I could come up with.
Jurors kept getting eliminated left and right and I found the whole process fascinating. I loved hearing all of their answers. More people watch the Food Network than I had realized. Nobody has any opinion about whether or not people sue too much. That baffled me since I feel like I have an opinion on everything. Most people also didn’t really have hobbies. Their hobbies were just playing with their kids and grandkids. I thought that was a little sad. I know I’m younger than everyone else who was questioned, but I’d like to think that I will have something else that I enjoy doing in my life other than playing with grandkids. Some people mentioned different types of sewing or painting. One lady was a drummer. But most of the responses were dull.
I’m really interested in racial equality in our country and I’m currently reading a book called The New Jim Crow about mass incarceration in the United States today and how much racial discrimination exists within the justice system.
In this case, everything the book said was absolutely true. Now, this was not a criminal case, so it’s a bit different than the cases against drug dealers, or people caught with drugs or weapons, but I was still observing everything.
The plaintiff was an African American woman. The judge and all three lawyers were white. The first seven jurors were all white. I started looking around the courtroom at the other potential jurors. There had to be over 60 people in that room and there was not one African American. There was one Hispanic woman and one Indian woman. Everyone else appeared to be Caucasian.
I know that alone does not mean that the case would involve any racial discrimination, but it sure does make it more likely. From this experience, I would argue that a jury is definitely not a random sampling of people in a particular county. Anyway, I could get carried away with all of this, but back to my actual experience yesterday…
While listening to each of the potential jurors, I was trying to guess which ones would be excused. I was correct about many of them.
-That lady has a husband who is a physician and her children are also physicians, so they’ll eliminate her since it’s a carse involving bodily injury. “Juror #2, thank you, but you are excused.”
–He said he would meet his great-grandfather. They clearly said not to choose a family member. I would eliminate him for being a bad listener. Yep, juror #4 was excused as well.
–Her boyfriend is a state trooper and she hesitated for way too long when they asked her if she would be able to be impartial. Juror #5, gone.
-She just keeps saying how nervous she is. I don’t think they’ll like that she’s terrified this entire time. How will she make a good decision if she can’t calm down? Juror #1, dismissed.
–I know that this is not nice, but she has lots of visible tattoos and seems kind of trashy. I doubt they’ll take her.
–Why does everyone keep saying they would be a good juror because they’re honest? It’s driving me crazy. You’re in the jury – your honesty doesn’t really matter. More significant qualities include: ability to remain impartial, decision-making skills, focus, good listener, etc. All of these women just keep telling us they’re honest. Congratulations, but you’re not the one on trial!
Okay, you get the point. Next thing I knew, they were dismissing the woman I had judged for her visible tattoos and my name was being called.
“Stephanie _____?” said the clerk.
“Did you respond “Yes” to any of my 22 questions?” asked the judge.
“No,” I said, trying to stop myself from grinning. I grabbed my bag, and walked into the jury box and into the sixth seat. I had to try really hard to avoid smiling too much. I didn’t want them to think I was the ditzy blonde who was overly excited about this experience.
I had to answer each of the questions and because I had written them down, I was ready to go, unlike many of the other people who had been in the jury box. I was getting so tired of hearing the judge repeat the questions over and over again.
I talked about my job as a teacher and my college job as a sports medicine assistant. I mentioned how I enjoy working out, running, and volunteering. I said that I get my news from Yahoo, BBC, and Al Jazeera and that I don’t watch any TV, but that Prison Break was the last show I had watched. I explained why Ishmael Beah was the person I would choose to speak with, mainly because I love volunteering in Africa. And I told them that I do believe our society is too litigious. I gave them the example of people suing for their hot McDonald’s coffee and how that type of lawsuit just causes more restrictions on the rest of us. I said that I did believe that I would be a good juror because I could be fair and impartial.
When I finished, I was nervous that they wouldn’t like my answer about the 15 minute conversation. The other jurors either couldn’t pick anyone or they picked famous musicians. Then came little miss Stephanie, explaining why she wanted to talk to a former child soldier. I though it seemed a little too extreme. Every time a lawyer would pick another juror to dismiss, I would hold my breath, hoping that my name would not be called.
Then, the defendant’s lawyer said something in lawyer-speak that I understood to mean that he was happy with the seven of us. My eyes widened. The judge turned to the plaintiff’s two lawyers. They went to speak to the plaintiff. I heard her say “Yes,” and tried to calm myself. These lawyers also said that they were satisfied. YESSSS!
While some of the people around me were visibly disappointed, I was so excited that I would get to go to an actual trial.
The judge told us that we should feel proud of ourselves since they had gone through 38 people before selecting the 7 of us.
The judge explained all of the rules. We were not allowed to speak to anyone about the case until its completion. We could not research anything regarding the case online, including looking up the names of the judge, lawyers, witnesses, plaintiff, or defendant.
After he explained everything, we were sent home and told to report back at 9am today.
I called my mom, so excited to tell her the news since she had always wanted to serve on a jury and has never been selected. I couldn’t tell her any details about the case, but I was so excited to see the trial.
Today the seven of us jurors sat in the waiting area. Some of them seemed content with being selected. One woman said she had served on a criminal case previously and that she was happy because this was supposed to be a two-day trial, whereas her last one lasted longer than a week. One man was pretty disgruntled, saying how he must have selected the short straw.
The clerk met us and escorted us into the court room. After sitting down into the same seats in the juror box as yesterday, he judge said that he had good news for us: the case had settled, so jurors were no longer needed.
What? My hopes were crushed. I was so excited to experience the trial.
He explained that situations like this happen sometimes because the parties involved realize that they really have no idea what the jurors will conclude about their case, so it might be more prudent to just settle.
I did not expect that, especially since we had been told that this case had taken three years to get to court. Oh well.
Despite my disappointment, I was able to get home much earlier than I had planned and the weather was beautiful today, so I even had time to go to the beach, which I couldn’t have done if I had been at work all day. It’s also good that I’ll get to go back to work tomorrow so that my students don’t need another substitute.
I’m still excited that I was picked. It was a fun experience. Maybe one day I’ll actually serve as a juror for a trial. Or maybe not. But that was my experience and I really enjoyed it. Now I won’t be summoned again for at least three years, so I guess we shall see what happens next time.
I know that this blog makes me sound ridiculous, but these past two days were really exciting for me. It’s kind of a weird topic to be so excited about, but you know, it’s the simple things in life.