A trial by a jury of one's peers is a RIGHT afforded to every citizen of the United States of America under our Constitution.
I have worked within the judicial system in the civil and criminal courts since 1993. During that time I have developed an appreciation for our laws and how they are administered. I know that each of you will sit on a jury at some point and fulfill your civic duty. I also know that there are points in life where it is difficult to set aside important responsibilities and devote a week or more to a jury trial.
There are ways to avoid jury service, but they are all temporary. You will be called again.
I have learned a trick or two during my years working in the courts. Here is a brief summary of what to expect, things to do and don't do, and how to get your walking papers.
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Step 1: LAWS & STATUTES:
All states have laws that govern jury trials and jurors. Failing to respond to a jury summons would be a mistake. Some possible sanctions or punishments available to judges include suspension of a driver's license, a warrant for someone's arrest, even jail time.
Don't forget, the particular CASE that you are being called to hear has probably been active in the system for a year or longer. There are attorneys that are being paid, probably in part or in whole by taxpayer money. The legislature of every state is very cognizant of this and has enacted laws that "encourage" people to show up when summoned.
Step 2: REQUESTING a DELAY:
All you may need to do is request a slight delay in your jury service. You can write this request on your Juror Questionnaire. There will be a telephone number to call the Clerk of Courts office and you can make the request over the phone as well. Usually one delay will be granted with no questions asked.
The delay can range from a few months to years. For instance, when I lived in Chicago and asked for a delay, it was five years before I got another summons. In Wisconsin, a delay is usually for three to six months. Feel free to ask the clerk what your county policy is.
A second request for a delay is usually denied by the clerk and you will need judicial approval for it to be granted.
Step 3: EXCUSES FOR a SECOND DELAY:
We hear excuses all day long and probably ones that are a lot more creative than what you can come up with. A second request for delay will be presented to a judge. They will either grant it or deny it, but be assured that it will be scrutinized and you may be asked to verify your request.
If you can document the need for a second delay, the judge will usually grant it. For instance, fax a letter to the clerk of courts office from your doctor confirming a scheduled surgery at the same time as opening arguments in the trial. I'm not kidding. To achieve a second delay, you will have to provide some documented proof of your excuse. It's harsh, I know.
Step 4: DENIED:
The court system is not always sympathetic to the plight of a juror. Eventually your request for delay will be DENIED and off to jury service you will go. Your next chance to get the boot is during the Voir Dire process.
You may as well resign yourself to the fact that you are going to spend the day with us. We're fun, we enjoy what we do, and we love when jurors come to visit =)
Step 5: PUNCTUALITY:
It's funny. I'm acturally going to tell you not to be late when I know darn good and well that you are going to arrive at the courthouse on time only to sit and wait and wait and wait.
The main reason for the wait is there are probably last minute negotiations going on. You see, the jury trial is the system's ace up the sleeve. Make a decision now or we get the jury.
Criminal Defendants are more likely to accept plea agreements and Civil Plaintiffs are more likely to accept a settlement offer.
MOST CASES WILL NEVER GO TO JURY TRIAL. CHANCES ARE YOU WILL NEVER SEE THE INSIDE OF A COURTROOM. That's really a shame because it is fascinating and I know you are all broken up about it. On the bright side, most court trials and proceedings are public hearings. Stop by and check it out sometime.
Step 6: BE PREPARED & OTHER IMPORTANT TIPS:
Expect this process to take all day and pack a bag with things you may need. Remember, you will be going through security.
The jury selection process is in two parts.
First is the orientation room. You will probably be tortured with some terrible movie on your civic duty and the system. The second part is the questioning in the courtroom. The rules for each room are different. For example, you can knit to your heart's content in the orientation room, but in the courtroom a knitting needle is considered a weapon. You will send the deputies into a tizzy and they will confiscate your afgan for the day.
READING: Fine in the orientation room. However, judges tend to be a traditional group of people and reading in the courtroom is considered disrespectful. Never read when the judge is on the bench and speaking. I once worked for a Chicago judge that had someone taken into custody for doing this. The juror was given a piece of paper and a pencil and told to write an apology to the judge.
CELL PHONES: Fine in the orientation room; not the courtroom. Not even on mute or vibrate. Most courtrooms have sophisticated sound systems that will buzz and hum when a cell phone goes off or is logging on to the internet. You really don't want to find out if this particular guy in the robe is a confiscate for the day or forever kind of judge.
SNACKS & DRINKS: Fine in the orientation room; not the courtroom. I always sneak a Diet Coke in under my desk. The Judge hates it, but he knows how crabby I get if I don't have my caffeine =)
DRESS CODE: Wear layers because courtrooms are generally cold. Too many SUITS. For jurors there are no dressing guidelines. Have you ever seen that roving e-mail depicting Wal-Mart shoppers? Court is errily similar to that. You don't have to wear your Sunday best, but be clean and cover up.
HATS: Hats are NOT allowed in the courtroom as it is considered disrespectful to the system. There are a few exceptions. Anything on the head that has a religious association is acceptable and no one should ask you to remove it. Also, women who are wearing hats as part of an outfit are usually allowed to do so, especially older women. Hats can loosely be defined as anything that covers the head. A bandana would be considered a hat.
Step 7: THE ONE-DAY JURY TRIAL:
There are quite a few jury trials that will last only one day. The judge will always let you know upfront how long your service will be required. If it's a simple disorderly conduct, speeding ticket, slip and fall, fender bender, dirty house, and there are many others, just go with it. You are there anyway. You will be plesantly surprised at how much you will learn from the experience.
Let's say the judge has just announced that the trial is going to last for eight weeks and you don't have eight weeks to devote to the cause, then the following steps are for you.
Step 8: PEREMPTORY CHALLENGE Vs. FOR CAUSE:
Your only hope now to get off they jury is in one of two ways: The peremptory challenge or for cause.
THE PEREMTORY CHALLENGE: Attorneys on both sides of the case can excuse jurors without stating a reason by means of the peremtory challenge. They are limited in the number of strikes they have and will use them only on the jurors they feel most likely to hurt their case. The idea behind the peremptory challenge is that both sides contribute to the final makeup of the jury.
FOR CAUSE: This is how the judge excuses potential jurors. The judge is not limited in the number of jurors removed for cause. Attorneys can request that a judge remove a juror for cause or a judge can do it on his or her own motion.
Step 9: CLOTHING CAN GET YOU KICKED OFF:
The T-shirt is a great way to get our attention. We once had a guy come into a Chicago courtroom wearing an NRA shirt. Funny and brilliant. The attorneys and judge immediately had a sidebar, which is a whispered discussion at the judge's bench. They agreed on the spot that that particular juror could be sent on his way with our many thanks.
Once a juror showed up with a Budweiser shirt not knowing that he was there for a drunk driving trial. We said good-bye and wished him well.
World's Greatest Dad t-shirt for a failure to support case. We still laugh at that one.
Your clothing tells us a lot about you.
We were picking a jury for a civil case involving concrete and a crack that developed. A lady tripped on the crack. Dan the Concrete Man had his work jacket on and we were all concerned about what he would say. The concern was justified. When he had a chance to talk he told us that he could guarantee two things about concrete. One, it would crack. Two, nobody would steal it. MISTRIAL.
Step 10: PRIVATE ISSUES:
Private issues are another way to get removed from a jury. Examples are overactive bladder issues, attention deficit disorder, mental health issues, cognitive delays, health concerns, pregnancy, and so on. You may have been the victim of a crime and being in another courtroom is traumatic for you. You may have something going on in your personal life that has consumed your attention, a divorce for example. A recent death. Something that is distressing and does not allow you to concentrate.
The jury selection process, Voir Dire, can be quite intimidating. Not every person is gifted with an outgoing personality and disclosing a private issue in a packed courtroom full of strangers can be difficult.
Here are some suggestions:
-You can write a note to the judge about any concerns you may have. Slip it to court staff and the judge will see it.
-You can request a private voir dire. Private means that you will go in the judge's office with the attorneys, the clerk, the court reporter and any parties related to the case. What you say will be written down by the court reporter as part of the public record. Private only means that you are not disclosing private issues in front of the entire courtroom.
Step 11: THE RADICAL JUROR:
There's one in every bunch. The one that writes some totally outrageous statement on the juror questionnaire about their view on world order. Frankly, this will work. Make your politically incorrect statement and you WILL be kicked off the jury.
Here's our view of this. We have called in 50 to 100 people on average to hear a particular case and someone blurts out some crazy opinion. If the judge says, okay, you're excused, just guess what's going to happen. Other people are going to repeat the same ridiculous statement.
Yes, you will get kicked off, but you are still ours for the day. That's right. A judge can kick you off the jury panel, but he or she doesn't have to let you just mosey on your way. You might just get to hear every word of the trial from a front row seat in the peanut gallery. It's usually a wooden bench of some type and your fanny is going to really hurt after an hour.
Your fellow jurors will be sitting in cushioned chairs that swivel. We are all going to stand for them when they walk into the room and walk out, showing our respect for their valuable time. We give them donuts and fresh brewed coffee, soda and bottled water. We let them pick where lunch is ordered from. Jurors are given the consideration they deserve.
You are going to be lucky to find the overpriced vending machine. You might even have an armed deputy to be your friend for the day. You may have to stay until every last verdict has been read and the lights go out for the night.
Step 12: THE CHATTY CATHY JUROR:
The more you talk, the more we get to know about you, and the more we don't want you. This really is the truth.
If you don't talk to us, I sure hope you enjoy your service.
Usually the panel is asked questions as a whole with the understanding that you will raise your hand if the answer is yes. Then all the yes people will be further questioned.
DO NOT LIE! You have taken an oath. I am not giving you permission to lie, but I am telling you to think. The case you are going to hear is about SOMETHING. Probe your memory for some person that you heard about somewhere that had this very same SOMETHING happen to them.
Let's take the example of a criminal case. The defendant is being accused of stealing someone's purse at a bar. The question asked of the jury is this: Have you or someone you know ever had their purse or wallet stolen? YES.
The judge and the attorneys have just placed a little red dot next to your name on our jury list. The more red dots you have, the better your chances of getting the boot.
Keep talking. Tell us about EVERY SINGLE PERSON YOU KNOW THAT HAS BEEN THE VICTIM OF A CRIME, especially the ones that had a purse stolen. Did you like the way law enforcement handled the situation? Tell us all about how law enforcement did a great job and you have such respect for police officers. Or that they totally screwed up and you have lost faith in the system.
You can talk your way right on home.
SOME QUESTIONS YOU MIGHT BE ASKED ON A CRIMINAL TRIAL:
Do you know anyone in law enforcement?
Have you yourself, a family memeber or a close personal friend ever been convicted of a crime?
Do you believe that our laws are generally too harsh? Not harsh enough?
Do you believe that the legal limit is too low? Too high?
Now let's use the example of a civil trial. The plaintiff had a heart attack during a stress test. You are asked: Do you know anyone that had a heart attack during a stress test? YES.
Have an answer for the questions asked =)
Once again, if you sit there quietly, we are going to think that you are perfect for our case and you can spend the next three weeks with us.
Step 13: THE SMARTY PANTS:
If you have too much knowledge on a subject, the lawyers will not want you to sit on the panel. Very rarely will you see a doctor or nurse on a medical malpractice jury. If you're good at improvisation, you could pull this one off.
Step 14: MY PERSONAL FAVORITES:
THE ODD DUCK: There's one of these in every bunch as well. Just a little off, a little too into it. Laughs too much or is too intense. Doesn't quite track the questions asked and the answers are in left field. Disruptive to the flow. You will get a big check next to your name for this.
CLUELESS: When did they make that against the law? Wow, I had no idea. Are you sure that's illegal?
THE SLEEPER: If you are going to saw logs in court, be prepared for a possible contempt of court. It is effective, though. And you will probably get a good laugh.
THE NOSE PICKER: This is so gross and it happens on a fairly regular basis. The lawyers will complain about you, the court staff will complain about you, the guy being charged with murder facing life in prison will complain about you. We will be happy to help you to the door.
THE ANGRY DUDE: For some strange reason, jury service brings out the worst in some people. Go figure. The person in the jury box is in a full snit and displaying tons of attitude. We don't want you, but be warned this is risky. Courtrooms today are equipped with a panic button that will call the SWAT team to the courtroom. We don't mess around.
THE CRYER: Enough said.
Step 15: THE SURE THING:
I have given you a lot of suggestions on ways to get off a jury, none of which are 100 percent, but here is the sure thing.
Part of the judge's job is to ensure that the parties have a fair trial. They are entitled to an impartial jury, one that has no preconceived notions about the case, has an open mind, is able to judge the case without bias or prejudice. If you really want to get off the jury, then you simply cannot be fair. It's really that easy.
Don't just announce some extreme opinion about criminals or auto manufacturers or doctors or whatever. You will wind up becoming the BFF of the radical dude. The sure thing is subtle.
Let's use the example of a defendant on trial for crimes against children. You have already answered all the questions and made yourself known to the parties. This subject matter is significant to you by virtue of the fact that you or someone you know has been the victim of this crime. You will be asked a question similar to this: Do you believe that you can set aside your personal experiences and judge this case only on the evidence and testimony presented in this trial? NO.
You have just interjected a possible appellate issue into the proceedings. It could be considered error by the judge if you are not excused and the appellate court could overturn any verdict that might be handed down if you were to remain. Serious stuff and it is costly. You have the judge's full attention.
It works the same in civil cases. You are being questioned to possibly sit on a jury where the issues are a rear-end collision at a slow speed with soft tissue injuries. You know someone who was involved in the same type of accident and went to therapy and is all better and didn't file a lawsuit. Or that person is still in pain and will never be the same. It doesn't matter which direction you go in. The question is: Can you set aside that experience and judge this case on the evidence and testimony presented? NO.
The judge and attorneys may want to know why. Empathy for the victim is a good answer. You were very involved with the recovery. You've seen the long lasting impact on someone you love. You are a very sympathetic person. I'm sure you can come up with others.
Step 16: REHABILITATION:
You should know that the judge is not going to let you go without a fight. There will be an active attempt to rehabilitate you.
You may be asked questions such as: You understand that this is a separate case and that your friend is not involved in this case? You wouldn't hold what happened to your friend against this defendant, would you?
If you waiver on your answer, you will be considered rehabilitated and the judge will not have to release you for cause.
Do not fall for the rehabilitation.
I will warn you that I have seen judges get a little bent when this happens. You are putting him or her in a tough spot. They will have to make a ruling that will be scrutinized by the plaintiff and defense and probably a higher court.
Stick to your guns. If you really feel that you can't be fair, justice would not be served by you remaining on the panel. Politely remind the judge that your answers were prompted by questions posed to you and that you are just trying to be honest. You have made your point, that you are not like the eariler yahoos that were willing to do or say anything to get a pink slip.
The judge will let you go. That is the only option. You are off the jury and you didn't have to sacrifice your integrity to do it.
Step 17: CLOSING ARGUMENT:
I have a lot of reasons for writing this Instructable. Mostly I think it has to do with the stage of life I'm in right now. I have little children and today one of them is in the Frog and Toad play. I know that the judicial system would not respect that as a commitment for me, but I know that I would be heartbroken to miss it. I will never forget the woman that sat through a traffic trial with tears running down her cheeks. She told us that her child was to be in a school play that day, but the judge wouldn't grant a further delay of service.
My husband and I are fortunate that we work for employers that give paid days for jury service. Many companies don't do that and the economy today is such that many of us can't miss even one day without feeling the pinch.
If you do try to get out of jury duty, do it for a significant reason.
If you decide to rise to the calling, you will be all the better for it. Maybe you will see me. I'm the quiet one sitting in the middle of the room with the fast fingers =)