17 Dec 2009

Jury duty, this time for real

filed under: journal  :: modern life

I still consider myself to be a New Yorker. I went to school there (last year of high school and college), worked for many years in the city, went back and forth from Switzerland to there for a couple of turbulent years. My legal U.S. residence is there, so I spend quite a lot of time every year in the NYC area.

This trip was mainly about doing bureaucratic paperwork, family related things, and - as the title says - answering a summons for jury duty. Since taking U.S. citizenship in the early '90s, I've gotten one of those slips 5 times. Yep, they get your number once you pledge your allegiance to the flag, etc. I cannot deny that each time I've gotten that perforated form telling me to go to the Nassau (Long Island) County Courthouse that my heart sinks, especially if I happen to not be in the country, which is more than likely. However I've never been selected to an actual jury before (I was always dismissed with the hordes at some point in the process - they always start the day with a couple of hundred people at least assembled in the jury pool) -- until this time. I became Juror No. 3 on a criminal case.

I don't want to get into the details of the actual case, since it's immaterial. But for anyone who has never been selected to a jury, I can tell you that it is an utterly mentally exhausting process. The case lasted for 6 days with a weekend in between, including two half-days spent for deliberation. The hours themselves are not that long (usually from 11:30 to 4:30 or so, including a lunch break) but at the end of each day I was utterly wiped out. It didn't help that I caught a bad cold on day 2, but even after I got a little better physically, mentally I couldn't do anything more strenuous than slouch in an armchair weakly as my father, in control of the remote, flipped back and forth between the Game Show Network and Judge Judy, his two favorites. I could have never anticipated that utter exhaustion that set in. I guess it is logical -- after all, I was supposed to make a decision that was of supreme importance, not only to the defendant, but to many other people involved too.

My fellow jurors, all women (we were told this was just a coincidence, but I'm skeptical, since the defendant was also a woman of around our age) were utterly conscientious in their deliberations, as I like to think I was. Once we got into deliberations though, I was surprised at how peoples' views and opinions differed so much (shades of Rashomon) and also how wrong I was about how someone was going to think and vote beforehand.

I am very relieved that I am not obligated to be on another jury for at least six years. On the other hand, it was an invaluable experience, and gave me a much better appreciation for the way the American legal system works. For that I'm very thankful.

The biggest thing I took away from this experience is this though: Hiring a good defense lawyer really, really pays off. And I didn't even like the guy much.

On a cultural-trivial-note: Judge Judy has nothing whatsoever to do with real law, even if she used to be an actual judge in New York State, in case it wasn't clear (yes I know, duh). On the other hand, I was pretty surprised at how well Law and Order (the original one...not sure about the spinoffs) captures the atmosphere, if not the factual details, of a what a real courtroom is like.

Comments on this post:

I agree with you that

I agree with you that watching the entire trial process is very interesting to see, however, I was chosen to be on a jury 2 years ago and had to sit through 2 days of testimony trying the entire time not to fall asleep only to be released as the alternate juror as soon as it came time for deliberations. Oh well... at least I got to go home a little early I guess.

I have been summoned to jury

I have been summoned to jury duty on 3 occasions and I was fortunate to get out of it all 3 times. I know there are some specific things you can say or do to get out of it. I believe that you can indicate up front that you are sympathetic to one of the parties or state that you have no faith in the justice system.

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