Wednesday April 14, 2004

Summoned to Appear (part 2 of 4)

[ I was Summoned to Appear for Jury Duty this past Monday, April 12. The story begins here and continues below. ]

I headed down the stairs and down the hall to the Jury Assembly room, joining the line of prospective jurors filling out the "Juror Affidavit" form.

The woman running the Jury Assembly orientation soon began to sound like a robot. She kept repeating over and over "Please have a seat. I need your paperwork. Please include your name, address, home telephone and work number. Please sign and date the back. Please have a seat. I need you to sign and date this. I need your paperwork or they don't know you're here. Please have a seat. Are you all parked in Jury parking? Did you put your parking pass on the dashboard of your car? I need your paperwork. Please..." Hers must be one of the most boring jobs in the world.

Every now and then something different would happen. "Sir, you forgot to sign the back". Ma'am, I need your telephone number." "Sir, you did not need to come in. Your juror number starts with a 1. Only jurors with numbers starting with 0 need to come in today. You may leave".

At 8:30, the scheduled start time, people were still dribbling in. "Please have a seat. I will start orientation in 7 minutes. I need your paperwork."

Most people were dressed casually. One gentleman was in full pinstripes and tie; I presume he was hoping to get out early and go back to work for part of the day. There were perhaps 100 people in the room, capacity 315.

The orientation clerk called one man back to the front. "Sir, you're down for April 19th". He said "My paper says April 12". She repeated "No, April 19". He said "April 12". She turned the computer monitor toward him, raised her voice slightly and said "Would you just look at the screen here?" Matching her in tone and volume he replied, "Would you just look at the paper?". She said "I just want you to know where I'm coming from". He repeated her words exactly. She sighed and said "I can put you in for today.". Somewhat exasperated by now, he said "I would appreciate it" and returned to his seat.

She kept walking back and forth between the computer and the front of the room, telling us everything she was doing. "While we're waiting, I'm just putting all of these in the computer again to make sure they're all here. I don't want anyone not to be counted. I'm not supposed to be here. I'm filling in today for someone else who isn't here. It's HER MONTH."

She finally started her orientation spiel at about 8:45, beginning with the standard claim that prospective juror selection is random "like the Lotto". A woman in the back of the room called out "Then why am I picked every year?". The orientation clerk said "I don't know. It's random." Several people chuckled under their breaths and commented to the effect that they should be so lucky if the Lotto was that "random".

Next, she told us that the pool of names is chosen from the Voter Registration rolls and DMV records. A man in front asked "So, if we don't vote and don't drive we wouldn't get chosen? I could handle that. We have good public transit!". He looked around, smiling, asking us to share the joke; people smiled, heads nodding.

The telephone rang. Our clerk answered. It was a call from "upstairs" requesting 30 jurors this morning. She told them she hadn't finished orientation. She hung up, returned to the front of the room, saying "Now, where was I?".

Next she read through the 5 Qualifications for being a juror - you must be a US citizen, you must live in San Mateo County. She paused to explain "That's from Brisbane and Daly City in the north to East Palo Alto. That's San Mateo County". I wondered how many people don't know what county they live in... and how many of those would know if their hometown is between Brisbane and East Palo Alto!

More qualifications — no felony convictions (unless you've had them expunged in court); not a currently serving police officer (retired is OK); at least 18 years old. Then she started talking about possible hardships: language, business hardship, child care (although the court maintains a child care facility for children 2 years of age and older, if toilet trained), vital (inexpendable) staff members, religious beliefs, school, medical appointments, health reasons, financial considerations,... but we'll have to make the hardship claim to the court. She can't do anything . "I only take orders. I am the lowest of the low".

The phone rang again.

She answered, essentially telling whomever was calling that she still hadn't finished orientation (with the subtext "and I won't if you keep interrupting"). She hung up and said "Part of my job is to answer the phone. Now, where was I?" A prospective juror prompted her where she left off and she continued. "When you leave here today, you will receive a verification paper with today's date, either from the Jury Commissioners office if you go up to a court room or here in the assembly room if you don't. If you don't get called upstairs, the day ends here at 5pm. If you do get called upstairs, I can't help you. You might get on a jury. They'll probably let you go today at 5. As you can see, I don't know. I can only help you while you're in this room".

Then she started the video. A video! That's something they've added since the last time I was in this situation.

The video is quite stirring. A somber voice reads from the Constitution. Inspirational music swells in the background. A womans's voice says "No one person should have so much power - we trust in the community". The video switches to cameo interviews with supposed former jurors. "If I were on trial, I would want a jury just like the one I served on". "It was a great feeling; I felt important". "It was special. I would do it again".

Apparently, jury duty provides many people with a sense of self-esteem. The voice-over came on again, telling us that "Jurors need no special background... you will use your common sense... the judge will instruct you in the law... everyone counts." None of this sort of thing impresses me. However, I did learn a few things from the video.

  • Most courts have started using the 1 day or 1 trial system for jury selection.
  • Jurors may not investigate a case independently by going to the scene or seeking evidence on their own.
  • In a civil trial, only a 3/4 majority is required. In a criminal trial, the jury's decision must be unanimous.

The voice-over continues, "the decision of the jury has been made. Justice... has been served". The music swells again, triumphantly. It may not grab me but I could see that it's nevertheless great advertising. The credits roll.

To be continued...


part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4

Summoned to Appear (part 2 of 4) ( in category Trivial Pursuits ) - posted at Wed, 14 Apr, 22:30 Pacific | «e»