My civic duty is to sit and read.

June 9th, 2008 by Chris

Seriously. I even got paid for it. (Caution: Long posting)

I received a juror summons some weeks ago to report this week. Most people, it seems, find this to be some kind of terrible inconvenience, but I thought it sounded interesting, having never done it before.
So over the weekend I called the provided telephone number and was told that all jurors needed to report. So this morning I was off to Wampsville (I’m not making that up) where the Madison County Courthouse is located.

Some 150 potential jurors were summoned according to Ms. Kincaid, Commissioner of Jurors for a criminal trial. 12 jurors and two alternates would be required. We were asked to fill out a questionnaire which covered such things as education, occupation, and various potential conflicts of interest. This was a general form, nothing specific to the nature of the case (which we didn’t know yet). At this point we were all seated in the gallery of the courtroom. Ms. Kincaid then discussed jury duty and showed us an introductory video about the history of the trial by jury. I have to tell you, this video started out looking more like a Monty Python skit (complete with medieval mob and trial by throwing some poor sod into a lake… go ahead watch the first 5 minutes.), than a documentary about serving as a juror. The later part was better, at least in a “how real trial’s aren’t like TV kind of way”. Eventually, the defendant, the various attorneys and the judge, the Honorable Judge Dennis McDermott, came into the courtroom and the court was called into session.

The judge explained at this point what the process would be and asked us to answer some additional questions pertaining to the particulars of the trail (a second questionnaire). The defendant was introduced and the charges informally read: manslaughter, assault, criminally negligent homicide and criminal possession of a weapon (read about the case in the Post-Standard). Again, the questions pertained to conflict of interest, but now in the particulars: did you know anyone in the court staff, the lawyers, the defendant, heard about the case, etc. Apparently there had been an article in the Sunday paper about the case (which of course I hadn’t seen as I never read the paper), but he said not to worry about it.

Finally, jury selection actually began (about 11AM). 13 names were drawn at random and seated in the jury box. These people turned in their completed forms. Anyone who had marked a potential conflict on the second form was interviewed privately by the attorneys and judge in private. Some of these folks were dismissed, and additional names were drawn. This process repeated a few times until 13 people were in the jury box. This process took a little over an hour (during which I sat and read).

The attorneys were then given an opportunity to ask questions of the prospective jurors based on the longer (first) set of questions and other elements pertinent to the case. It was interesting to listen to the types of questions being asked and how the prosecuting attorneys were trying to already establish certain thought processes. The defense attorney did likewise with questions that established the level of flexibility of the jurors and their likelihood to specifically follow the judge’s instructions. After each attorney had 20 minutes, the rest of us were dismissed for lunch. When we returned, we learned that several persons had been excused and the pool stood at 7. So another slate of 13 names was drawn and the process repeated.

By 4:45 this afternoon, the judge announced that a jury had been selected (another 7 were chosen from the second slate) and the rest of us (about 50-60 still sitting in the gallery) were dismissed. By the general clamor in the gallery it seems that most people were relieved, although I admit to being disappointed. Even though I didn’t know the details of the case, it was certainly a serious matter and intriguing from that aspect. Also, I wanted to see the process through and see what it was like.

Well, I guess it’s back to my normal job tomorrow.

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6 Responses to “My civic duty is to sit and read.”

  1. Heidi Says:

    I’ve only been drawn once and never even made it to the courthouse. Dad had jury duty last summer (the summer before?) and actually served on the jury. It was really interesting to hear about, after the fact when he could talk about it. You should ask him sometime.

  2. Lisa Says:

    I got called for federal jury, which was a two month time of being on call. In our small town, even with being the county seat, federal cases don’t get called often. I did get called in for one case, there were 18 of us, and I was one of the six dismissed (having been a victim of a crime and the defendant being an inmate, this was not surprising). It all took 2 hours, and the trial was supposed to take only 1-2 days after that. I was surprised about how much we knew about the case before the questions even started. The hardest part was having to talk about the crime out loud in front of strangers–wish that questioning had been in private!

    Todd also got called for federal jury, but never was summoned to the court house during his two month call period.

  3. grampa D Says:

    I made it to a jury through a very similar questionnaire process last year – a rape/murder case. It was a 16 year old cold case that surfaced with a dna match. The defendant wasn’t even interviewed at the time of the murder. although he lived within a mile of the victim, they had no known involvement. He was 19 at the time. As always he screwed up and was recently arrested for assault. Long story short, he submitted to a dna test. Victim was stabbed over 50 times and he also cut his hand when the knife slipped.
    I was, like you, interested in seeing how the system worked. It was the first time I had ever been called. Out of a pool of two hundred, which was called for three months, I made the first trial – and it was a very interesting experience. Are you all through or on call for a perild of time?

  4. Chris Says:

    All done. Madison County is a reasonably slow jurisdiction, so I think they only call jurors when a trial is scheduled. This trial started with jury selection on Monday and will probably take all week. So we were dismissed at the end of the day yesterday… and probably won’t get a call for another 6 years or so.

  5. B.Ruhsam Says:

    Hang ’em All! Woo!

    What was your day’s pay?

  6. Chris Says:

    I get full pay from work (assuming they’ll accept my proof of service). The state requires them to pay me only $40 per day.