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Published: 2008-03-26

What Is Jury Duty Like?

I will admit that being gone from work for a week or two for jury duty made me nervous. But in the two cases where I served as a juror, I really enjoyed it. First I signed in and showed my id. Then the large jury assembly room was big enough to hold a couple hundred potential jurors. It looked a little bit like the Greyhound bus terminal. We were given an oral summary of what we would be doing during our time of jury duty. We each got some helpful handouts to read about being a juror. The second time I served, we were also shown a court-produced video that gave us more helpful information.

The only bad part was the waiting. The jurors had to stay in the assembly room for long periods of time; I talked with other jurors; I drank coffee; I read. And yes, I did get bored. However, I finally did get called with a group of other potential jurors, and trooped off to sit in one of the courtrooms, where the Judge told us that the case involved a criminal charge of assault with a deadly weapon. We were introduced to the parties and the attorneys.

Then we were questioned by the judge and attorneys to see if we were biased or opinionated in any way. This questioning is called the "voir dire". To my surprise, neither attorney seemed bothered by the fact that I was an attorney employed by the Attorney General's Office. About a third of the potential jurors were excused from serving in that trial. The attorneys don't have to say why -- they just decide, based on the juror's answers to their questions, whether that juror would be fair to their client.

Finally the jury was selected, and we went back into the private room used by jurors in the back o0f the court. We were told that the attorneys had motions and arguments to be heard by the Judge. Finally we heard the opening statements of the attorneys, and then it was time to go home.

The trial lasted about 3 days. Then there were more delays, and long waits in the jury room. We had no idea what was taking so long. We read; we talked; we drank coffee; we worked on a huge puzzle that the court had furnished us. Finally we were brought back into the courtroom, and the Judge instructed us on the law relevant to the case. The attorneys gave their closing arguments. We went back to the jury room to deliberate.

The deliberations took most of a whole day. We were very conscientious, and reviewed all the evidence in the case. One thing might have caused a big problem for the court and us. Just before we went home for the night, one of the jurors told us that he had a brilliant idea." There was a technical question we had about the recovery of a bullet from a wall. He suggested that one of us to the library and get some more information on ballistics.

We all reminded him that the Judge had told us not to use any outside information. The bottom line is that we stuck to the evidence in the case, even though we still had some unanswered questions. Fact is, if a jury does do outside reading or investigating (like looking at the scene of the crime), the case will probably have to be tried all over again -- it's "juror misconduct" to consider any evidence which wasn't actually produced in the trial.

If you are called for jury duty, please do it. Make sure that you follow the instructions given you by the Court. Consider only the evidence introduced at trial. I'm willing to bet that if you do all of this, you will end up with an exciting experience you can tell to your friends and relatives. But please --talk about it after the trial is over!