Many jurors exit the trial process with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside that they’ve performed their civic duty and participated in the judicial process that makes America great. Whether this is true or not, it’s what the courts would have us believe. Let me make a confession to you: I feel no pride or sense of accomplishment for my two stints on a jury – only embarrassment at having my time stolen from me with no compensation given. I feel like a world-class sucker. If “performing your civic duty” turns you on, then by all means don’t let me stop you. But see how far being a conscientious citizen gets you when they come to repossess your car or evict you from your apartment.
I’ve decided I’m never going to serve on another jury for the rest of my life, or at least until they start paying a reasonable wage. I’m serious about this. Now, I don’t recommend ignoring the inital jury summons – although you might get away with it, the courts are beginning to use strong-arm tactics to force compliance. In Los Angeles, for example, violators can now be slapped with a $1500 fine, and although enforcement is reportedly spotty, it’s probably not worth the risk of giving The Man ammunition to use against you. But it’s the height of stupidity (or is it arrogance?) for them to think they can force someone to conscientiously serve on a jury who doesn’t want to. During the voir dire (which is simply pretentious lawyerspeak for the period when the judge and lawyers question prospective jurors to determine their suitability), any of the following statements is almost sure to get your rear end booted from the jury panel. If in doubt, use more than one.
1. Tell them if either counsel makes a motion to limit or restrict certain evidence from being presented during the trial, you’ll have a hard time maintaining your objectivity. Such a move will be interpreted by you as an attempt to hide the truth, and you’ll be inclined to decide against the party making the motion. Since the lawyers for both sides are not really interested in determining the truth at all (not that anyone’s surprised by this), but instead are trying to manipulate the jury’s perception of what the truth is, such a statement is sure to drive them batty.
2. Tell them that if the law which was allegedly violated doesn’t seem just to you, your conscience won’t allow a guilty verdict even if the evidence proves it. Of course, this one only works in certain situations, but the judge and the prosecutor will more than likely team up to bodily heave you out the door.
3. Tell them you believe the mere fact the case has been brought to trial indicates there is sufficient evidence against the defendant to prove him or her guilty. Watch the counsel for the defense turn red and emit steam from his ears.
4. Tell them you believe the prosecution will stop at nothing to get a conviction, even if they knowingly condemn an innocent person. Cite all the death-row inmates who were later proven innocent by DNA evidence.
There are, of course, more options than just these, but you get the idea. I should caution you that it requires a bit of resolve to make such statements when you’re in the hotseat. Often, the judge and lawyers will phrase their questions in the manner of “Do you possess the intelligence to decide fairly in such-and-such situation, or are you a complete idiot?” And in order to get off the panel, you’ll have to boldly answer, “I, sir, am a complete idiot.” This is something which is actually not easily done, particularly in front of a roomful of strangers. Also, you’re bound to feel twinges of guilt when the other prospective jurors are answering questions honestly, and not trying to duck jury duty. But remind yourself that if you get stuck on a jury, hours and hours of your time will be carelessly squandered waiting around in the halls for no justifiable reason, and the only compensation they’ll feel you’re worth is a pittance somewhere south of the wages of a migrant farm worker. Envisioning this as your immediate future will help you to steel your nerve. Also, remember that a lot of those “conscientious” people will give helpful answers up front, but later squirm out of jury duty by consulting with the judge in private. Trust me, on the case I just finished, person after person who’d been selected for the jury “mysteriously” disappeared the next day and we learned they’d been excused in private. On that same case, one woman employed option 3 above during the questioning, while another used option 4. Both were excused. So it’s your choice: feel embarrassed before a roomful of people whom you will never see again, or spend the following days/weeks/months being jerked around at the whim of the judge and trial lawyers.
Finally, the following passages in bold are from the “Trial Juror’s Handbook” – a pamphlet handed out to all prospective Los Angeles jurors during registration. I’ve taken the liberty of clarifying their meanings where appropriate.
You have been called to serve as a trial juror in the Superior Court of Los Angeles County.
Which begs the question, “Superior to what?”
Such service is a privilege, a serious responsibility and a mark of good citizenship.
We’re not going to pay you squat.
Please understand that California Rules of Court prohibit jurors from granting interviews to the media while still serving as jurors.
Your Barbara Walters celebrity interview will have to wait.
Upon selection to a jury, a juror becomes an important part of the judicial system.
What would Feudalism have been without serfs?
The law allows the judge to excuse you if anything in your background indicates that you may not be able to be impartial. This is called a “cause” challenge.
Failure to voice any biases (including those you’ve made up out of thin air) may result in your being accepted to the jury. This is called a “stupid” person.
Each side [the Prosecution and the Defense] has a specific number of “peremptory” challenges, which permit them to excuse jurors without being required to give an explanation.
Based on the case I was on, this number is 10,682. Per side. Jurors should be allowed a specific number of “peremptory” challenges, which permit them to excuse themselves without being required to give an explanation.
If you are excused, it does not mean that you are not qualified to serve.
They didn’t like your aftershave.
The process of questioning and excusing jurors continues until twelve jurors are accepted.
This happens when the Prosecution and Defense finally grow tired of trying to stack the jury in their favor, and decide to actually start presenting evidence.
Alternates are jurors who are treated the same as the other jurors at all times, and must assume the same responsibilities.
If the regular jurors are the serfs, the alternates are the ones who empty the serfs’ chamber pots.
As a juror, your role is vital in making sure that justice is done.
So vital, in fact, we’ll pay you what it’s worth. How does $1.90 per hour sound?
If you were to discuss the trial with family, friends or co-workers, you would hear their opinions…
The only opinion I heard was “I can’t believe you were too stupid to get out of jury duty.”
This rule also means that you cannot have conversations with the attorneys or anyone else related to the trial.
I didn’t stop when that cop tried to pull me over because I thought he might be related to the trial.
Be sure to wear your badge so that it will be clear that you are a juror.
The expression of total defeat on your face may not be enough.
This means you cannot visit locations relating to the case…
Fortunately, the snack machine in the building across the street was not related to the case.
Statements by the attorneys are not evidence.
You mean “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” wasn’t evidence? Is it too late for the jury to change its decision?
You will find that there are often differences of opinion and perceptions among jurors.
The ones who disagree with you are invariably idiots.
The foreperson will also make sure that voting is done properly and that all jurors are treated with respect.
Or, more accurately, that all jurors are treated with the same lack of respect.
For centuries our system has worked well with citizens and representatives from our communities sitting as jurors.
Only recently has it gone completely in the dumper.
The judge will give you all the law that you need to decide the case, and you are required, as judges yourselves, to follow that law.
Do we get to wear the robes?
It is important that the integrity of the justice system is maintained.
Pretend the Election 2000 actions of the U.S. Supreme Court never happened.
Dress as you would go to a business meeting. Ties are not required.
The sad part is the person writing that probably did it with a straight face.
You may bring something to read during recesses or while waiting for the trial to start.
Make sure it’s a long book. The entire Encyclopedia Britannica shouldn’t be ruled out. On the other hand, anything by Dr. Seuss might get you booted off the panel right at the start.
If you are late, you will be causing the other jurors, the judge, the attorneys, witnesses and court personnel to wait for you.
And you will be depriving the judge and attorneys of their standard practice of having you wait for them.
It is important to be on time, and you may wish to arrive a few moments early to avoid this problem.
I take it back. The author must have been laughing hysterically when she wrote this.
Don’t hesitate to call the court and let them know your status.
Um, I’m sorta having a rough morning. Could I just stay on the line and you can hold the phone up when they’re giving testimony?
Be careful not to let note-taking interfere with your ability to pay attention, listen and watch the evidence being presented.
It’s true. The person going first in tic-tac-toe really does have an advantage.
If you have a question, write it down on paper… [the bailiff] will make sure the judge gets it. The question may or may not be permitted.
“Does the Defense think we’re all completely frigging stupid?” and “Did that last witness seem inebriated to you, too?” are examples of questions which are generally not permitted.