I had jury duty today, and it was the closest I’ve ever come to actually getting selected.
I arrived at the courthouse at 8:30, and at 9:00 we started the day by filling out a questionnaire, following the instructions of a judge who appeared via a video monitor.
After we completed the questionnaire, we were told that they still were not sure if there would be a trial today, and so we were given a 15-minute break.
The break turned into over an hour, and finally around 11:00 we were told that there was going to be a jury trial, and they had randomly selected 65 of us to be in the jury pool.
They began reading off our names; I was the seventh name called so there wasn’t much drama there in terms of seeing if I was going to be excused for the day. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be the 65th person called, since I’m guessing that person was probably thinking that he or she had gotten out of jury duty.
Anyway, we were lead to the courtroom and after about 45 minutes the judge came out and explained what was going to be taking place. Apparently this part of the process is known as voir dire.
Voir dire is when prospective jurors are questioned about their backgrounds and potential biases by the judge and the attorneys before being chosen to sit on a jury. During this time, certain prospective jurors are called to the front of the courtroom for a sidebar with the judge and attorneys to further explain why they answered certain parts of the questionnaire the way they did.
When that questioning was completed, the judge instructed us to not leave our seats unless it was an absolute necessity. This was done so that the attorneys, now armed with all the relevant information, could go through the list of prospective jurors, take a look at us, and reach a decision.
At the end of voir dire (I just like saying that), the judge’s assistant reads off the numbers of the jurors that have been selected.
I must admit that I was kind of hoping to be selected, so that I could have at least one opportunity to serve on a jury before I get too old. Alas, as they read off the numbers, my number was skipped over.
As the selected jurors settled into the jury box, we were lead back to where we started the day. It appeared as if the the other potential jurors, who were not part of the 65 selected to go to the jury room, had been required to stick around as well.
It only took about five minutes at this point to get our certificate of appreciation and the receipt for what we did with our jury duty pay, and then we were free to go.
A few things struck me during the day.
First, the whole process is not nearly as exciting as John Grisham makes it out to be.
Second, it was great to see our system of law in action. The judge first emphasized the point that a person is innocent until proven guilty, and all the burden for proving guilt is on the prosecuting attorney. He also noted that we should not read anything into whether or not a defendant speaks on his or her behalf. The defendant has a constitutional right to remain silent, and is not there to prove his or her innocence. While I was aware of this, I never really thought about this way, but it made perfect sense.
I also like that our county gives potential jurors the option to donate their jury pay to a select group of non-profit organizations. It’s a nice way to tie civic duty and charity together.
And finally, while I don’t think anyone saw what I was reading on my Kindle, in hindsight it may not have been the most appropriate book for the day, Crime and Punishment. Fortunately that was not one of the questions I was asked…