A few weeks ago I received a jury summons. I’ve been summoned several times before. When I was summoned for federal court a few years ago, the summons came with a four page questionnaire asking all kinds of information about my jobs, Martin’s jobs and life events. After sending back the questionnaire, I received a letter telling me I did not need to report. I was rejected! Apparently, I wasn’t the type of juror they wanted. But this summons was for summary court, which is basically traffic court, so there was little to fill out on the questionnaire. Where it asked for place of employment, I simply answered “retired”.
So, last Tuesday I reported to summary court along with what looked like a hundred other people. By the time I arrived, there was no parking left in the court-house parking lot. Apparently arriving 15 minutes early wasn’t early enough. So, some of us parked at the church next door, flowing over onto their grass. Others parked at the gas station and Subway shop across the street. Still, others filled the side streets. We lined up, signing in when our turn came and then filled the court to standing room only. Along with we perspective jurors, there were attorneys with their clients, the defendants, a prosecutor and other defendants sans attorneys who were representing themselves.
I sat in the first seat I came to…the front row that nobody wants. Looking through the open door to the closed door across the hall, I stared at a poster of Albert Einstein on a big Harley hog of a motorcycle. Not exactly what you’d expect to see in a courthouse. The man seated next to me and I both laughed at the poster, surmising that must be the magistrate’s chambers. Yup! Eventually, the magistrate appeared through another door leading to the same office. He looked very official in his black robe. But, yes, he must be the Harley guy. The long beard almost touching his chest was a dead giveaway. As the buzz in the room quieted down, the magistrate introduced himself and the prosecutor and started to explain the process of jury selection.
There were several trials over the next three days, starting today at 11:30 a.m. They expected jury selection to be over by 11 a.m. Not wasting any time here! He asked each of us to stand up when our name was called. We were to state our name, our occupation, our marital status, our spouse’s occupation, if we had one, and our age. If we were retired or unemployed, we were to state our previous occupation. Ditto for our spouse. I found it interesting that they didn’t want to know if we had a significant other and what did they do with their living. I guess the influences of those close to you only count if you’re married. So, one by one, we stood up during roll call, gave our information in front of the group, as attorneys, defendants and the prosecutor made notes, presumably deciding who was acceptable or not.
Then, the magistrate proceeded to call out the possible exemptions from jury duty. He asked anyone meeting the criteria to raise their hands. There were several teachers, whom he excused with the promise they would be placed on the summer roster. When he came to the 65 years or older exemption, he paused. Then, noting how he was 67, he further noted retirees make excellent jurors because of all the experience they bring to the jury. Hmmm. The subtle guilt tactic. So, the pressure was on not to raise your hand if you were 65 or older. Regardless, one brave woman put up her hand, was excused and made a very quick exit. Next, he went on to ask about anyone convicted of a crime where they were sentenced to one year or more in prison. To my surprise, the man next to me raised his hand and was dismissed. When the magistrate asked who had been charged with DUI (driving under the influence), more surprise. I turned to look at a sea of raised hands. O.K. if they all get dismissed, there’s not going to be but fifty of us left to serve on all the juries needed this week. Alas. While they all had to get up and give their names, no one was dismissed.
Finally. We were at the moment of jury selection. We all received our summons because we are voters. Supposedly, a computer runs through the registered voters and randomly chooses the jury pool for the session. My ever-suspect little mind isn’t sure it quite believes the randomness part as my question, then, becomes, if Martin is also a registered voter, why has he never once received a summons when I receive one about every three years? Well, anyway, that’s how we all got there. Now that we’re all sworn as possible jurors, however, we are not chosen randomly by computer. Instead, our names, typed out on strips of paper, are stuffed into a little wooden box, which the magistrate shakes up, then opens up and starts pulling names from. It’s sort of like pulling names out of the hat. Very scientific.
If your name is called by the magistrate, you stand up. If the prosecutor likes you, then he says, “Present juror”. If he doesn’t like you, he says, “This juror may be excused from this trial”. Then, if the defendant’s attorney, or the defendant representing themselves, likes you, they say, “Please seat this juror”. If they don’t like you, they say, “This juror may be excused from this trial”. All very formal. Six jurors were chosen for each trial. After each jury was filled, a constable handed the selected jurors a paper with the date and time of their jury duty. One man, having already been chosen for one jury, was called a second time. When he indicated to the magistrate how he was already selected, the magistrate said, “Oh, you’re not off the hook. If you get chosen for five trials, well, then, go buy a lottery ticket.” I don’t think anyone was chosen for five trials but several people were chosen for two or more.
As for me, my name was pulled from the box five times. And, each time, either the prosecutor or the defending attorney/defendant said, “This juror may be excused from this trial”. I have no idea if they didn’t agree with the judge about retired people bringing lots of experience to the jury or they didn’t like the kind of experience I was bringing. Whatever the reason, I’ll never know. But, I do know, today, I’m going to buy my lottery ticket.