What's It Really Like To Be A Juror? Is Jury Duty Like TV And The Movies?
There is nothing more dreadful than finding that envelope with red writing on it in your mail. You're a good person, you're just minding your own business when you find that pesky envelope that says Juror Summons on it. So what is it really like to be a juror? Is it everything the TV and movies portray?
Well, I found out things aren't quite what we think.
So, in December I found this annoying envelope in the mail it was simple it wasn't a summons, just a survey. I could fill out the paper, go online or submit via phone. I sucked it up, sat down and filled it out online. The survey was simple it was basically are you an illegal immigrant? Are you a decent person etc. There was a catch, there wasn't any kind of confirmation email upon completion or anything other than the final page of the survey that thanked my for filling it out and said I would receive a contact via email.
I expected the worst but after a few weeks of not hearing anything life went onward.
Until that envelope returned with "Juror Summons" in bright red ink.
It was simple instructions to call a specific phone number after 5 on a specific day. That was all. Just call in at the desginated time and wait. Aside from being anxious everyone was saying 90% of cases are concluded outside of the courtroom so I likely won't have to go. I've had more than a few Criminal Justice classes to know that is certainly the case.
The days pass anxiously with everyone saying not to worry.
On the assigned day and time I dial the number and listen to the recorded message from the county Jury Commisioner's Office saying that all selected members for the chosen term are to call back in another week at the designated time again. Wait what?
Yes, all of the hype and build up to call in and it was just call back again. It seemed even less likely that I would have anything to do with being a Juror other than this whole process making me anxious. I mean there is no difinitive answer. You couldn't make plans you just had to go about life as usual with this lingering weight hanging over you. Would you? Wouldn't you?
Well, a week passes and I'm pretty much getting to the point that I don't care, it's not going to happen they're going to chuck the case and all of this was for nothing. Except it wasn't.
I heard the recorded message from the Jury Commisioner's Office say all jurors numbered between 1 and 180 are to report tomorrow morning at 9AM sharp while all jurors 181 through 320 are dismissed. So, yeah I had a 1 and 320 chance of being selected and I was selected. Yay?
I quickly message work and tell them I've been selected and fill out the work/jury information on the juror summons. I grumble about this screwing up my day and get ready to head to the county courthouse in the morning.
This should be quick right?
So, 9 AM in the morning. I show up at like 8:45 to get there early, get throug the courthouse security feeling more than a little lost and follow the other jurors down to the Comissioner's Office. The polite lady there directs us into a large meeting room with several hundred seats all facing forward towards a large flat-panel TV. She hands everyone a clipboard with an additional survey along with any disqualifying reasons why you shouldn't be a juror.
After a ridiculous number of people who couldn't follow instructions to save their life, everyone handed in survey #1 and the county Jury Comissioner finally showed himself. It's now around 10:30. Most of the delays were because people couldn't follow instructions and the clerk had to help address each person individually. Seriously, these were just check boxes. How can you not figure it out? Well, he thanked everyone for showing up and praised everyone for participating. He then led the pledge of allegiance. He explained that we were in place for a civil trial and as such only 6 jurors were needed with an alternate. Where a criminal trial would require 12 plus alternates. And then he put on a video.
Yes, just like school there was an idiot's guide to the courtroom explanation video. This was something produced by the state and looked like it was a high school project for PBS. It was cheesy, complete with bad acting and terrible low budget music and it lasted way too long. It was well over 10 minutes of one guy explaining who are actually in the courtroom and what their jobs are. After suffering through this terrible video we had to hurry up and wait because the court wasn't ready for us yet.
The Commisioner then proceeded to explain that if we did serve then we would be exempt for 10 years from serving again. He also addressed the misconception, no if you are dismissed without serving you are not free. You have the potential to be called back at any point with a higher chance of being selected. So, yeah it doesn't count as serving unless you are actually sworn in at some point. It's nearing 11 now. And I overhear the final number of people to show up is 43. Now we could go up to the courtroom.
The clerk takes everyone to a locked down elevator and leads us up to the courtroom.
It's huge and empty and only a few people are milling about. A court clerk in a weird jacket and the two attorneys. The clerk took our second surveys with our information and put them in a glorified bingo ball cage and proceeded with the 'hunger games.' The odds were good right? Only need 6 out of the 43 remaining jurors, right?
Their first goal was to fill the 12 juror seats in the jury box. That's all they needed at the moment. Then the attorneys could "Voire Dire" the jurors to see if they were acceptable. I breathed a sigh of relief everytime a number/name was called that wasn't mine. And I almost made it. Until the 11th was drawn. Yup. My luck put me in the jury box. One more was added and then the attorneys tried their best impressions of being friendly while asking questions regarding the case. This dragged on even longer. A solid 30min of making smalll-talk with potential jurors.
Then the two attorneys retreated with the judge to discuss who was worth keeping. They only needed 6 after all. It only took ten minutes of lounging in the weird recliner-like jury seats before they came back out and the clerk picked off the six undesirables and then announced that all others were dismissed as well.
Yeah, so my luck sucks. I had the chance of being one of six, SIX, out of over 300 selected and I made the cut. Why can't I have those odds with anything else?
So, the judge informs us that this will be a quick trial and it should be over hopefully in the same day. (HA!) The clerk comes by and leads us back to the jury room where she explains the procedure and how we must line up in a particular fashion each time and what we are to do. (If the video wasn't enough of an idiot's guide). The Clerk then leads us back into the courtroom where now the judge, attorneys and their parties are seated.
The judge then proceeds to read a script. Yes, a script! Complete with the fill-in-the-blank portions that may or may not be asked of you etc. Word for word. Seriously, the judge may have well just played a video. She just read it all and once again explained what jurors do and what the people in the courtroom do and then turned around thanked us again for our service. Like we have a choice.
Well, the trial begins. It's almost 11:30 now and the two attorneys go through the motions of their opening statments. Neither of them are as smooth as you see in TV. They end up repeating themselves and rambling in circles about their clients for a good 20 min each. Yes, they repeat everything over and over again and while they try that whole 'relateable thing' to the jury they're a bit like that principal or manager that pretends to be your friend. Yeah, not working.
After opening statments the judge then says it's time for lunch. LUNCH! We listened to about 40 minutes of monologuing and now we needed a break? Every juror wanted to continue and complained excessively about it when we were back in the juror room. Even for the few jurors that left for lunch were back in twenty minutes. Everyone wanted this thing over with. Nope, lunch was a full hour. The clerk was first back and chatted with us for awhile telling us that the pay for jurors hasn't changed in like 40 years and it's been at least 20yrs since the court provided lunch.
At 1PM court resumed. It looked like we were on track to actually have this trial concluded in one day. We only had to listen to a testimony and then go over some records before making our decision.
So, the plaintiff took the stand to testify answering all of these benign questions that had nothing to do with the trial. It was easy to see that the whole point of this was to establish them as a relatable person and give the 'poor me' factor. The catch was that if this TV or even a book the writer of this seen would've been fired. The questions and behavior were so awkaward and clunky that it made Syfy movies of the week look Oscar worthy. Hell, even the judge looked like she was falling alseep. ***Side note*** I do know that these are people's lives and it's certainly not a Hollywood production but this was weak by mock-trial standards.
An hour later the first attorney finished and passed it over to the Defendant's attorney. She asked a couple of questions and when the witness gave the wrong answer she screamed out 'mis-trial' which resulted in all of us being sent in the back for another 20min as they sorted out what happened.
When we finally came back out we were instructed to ignore or believe the testimony and we were moving on. Of course it wasn't quite that simple. The judge had to monologue for another 10min just to say that. Then since "It was getting late..." according to the judge (it was barely 2:40PM by this point.) We still had closing statements and records to go over now. But since it was so late in the day we were just going to pick it up tomorrow at 10AM instead. I'll say that again since it was getting so late we were going to have to pick it up again tomorrow. WTH?
It's Day 2 of this 'quick' trial. I show up at 9:35 hoping things would be quicker today. Seriously, the first day was only 2 1/2 hours of court total and all of it was monologuing and had nothing to do the facts of the case. So, wandering up the the courtroom and back to the jury chambers I find almost every juror is already there but no attorneys, judges or even clerks.
Somewhere around 10:15 court actually begins. We're lead into the room in our usual kindergartener style and back to our assigned seats. The judge begins by thanking us again and telling us what the steps of the trial are for the day in another 10min monoglue from her script.
We finally pick up where we left off yesterday. Closing statments. Once again the two attorneys talk themselves in circles for a good 45min saying the same things over and over about their respective clients. It had about as much effect as the opening statements had mind you. After which the judge says everyone has been sitting for quite a while and we should go back to our chambers to stretch for 5min.
Seriously! We sat for 45min and then had to take a break?
The 5min was more like 15 before we were paraded back to our seats. At which point the judge was giving us instructions for reviewing the records and coming to a decision. This was a 20min monoluge from her script yet again. A script! We were all given verdict sheets that we could review and fill out and these were explained at great detail as well. This script was like reading leagaleaze with all of the footnotes plugged into the sentence. She then said the alternate was now available to be dismissed. 1 in 7 chance right? Once again, not me. At the end of this the judge dismissed everyone for lunch! AGAIN!
This time none of the jurors wanted to leave for lunch and since we were all present the clerk informed us that we could go over the records. Everyone with any experience were able to tear through the records to pin point dates and facts and easily come to a verdict but one of the jurors wanted a more specific definition for a single word on the verdict sheet so the jury foreperson wrote down the question and gave it to the clerk. A few minutes later we were all paraded out and the judge just re-read her script all over again! That was not an answer. But after we returned to our chambers we were told that we needed to be paraded back out again. This time the judge re-read her script but with the verdict sheet explanations in a different order to match what we had.
10 min later we were back in our chambers and everyone came to a verdict and filled out the two yes or no questions on the sheet and signed their names. A few minutes later we were paraded back out to deliver the verdict.
The trial was concluded with a short monologue and the jurors were asked to remain in their chambers as the judge wanted to chat with us. 20min of sitting and the judge finally stuck her head in to once again thank us for our service and tell us a horror story about a grand jury that had to serve for 2 months dolling out indictments. She thanked us and sent us to the Jury Comissioner to receive our 'get our of work' passes.
That was it.
So what is it really like to be a county juror? Well, here in New York it's nothing like the movies or TV. It's not overly dramatic and it's certainly not entertaining. It's dull as dirt and long. Longer and more drawn out than it needed to be simply because of the very lax attitude of getting things done in a timely maner. Seriously, it was a grand total of 5 hours of court and 2 hours of actual court. 1 hour of testimony, an hour and a half of records review and the rest was nothing but monologuing that accomplished nothing. It was a far cry from the dramatic TV styled court. Even more entertaining was the shear volume of courtroom for dummies monologuing and rigid scripting. This is why entertainment, movies and TV are influenced by real-life and not actual life.
The reality of being a juror? Your day job is the only thing affected and only because you're not there. You're still paid by work it's just you work at the courthouse until it's done then you can go back to your regular routine.
Was it something to be anxious about? Nope. It was kind of interesting when digging through the records but everything else could've been decided in 10min in the courtroom or in the judges chambers. And with an hour for lunch everyday, 15min breaks every 45min and always leaving before 4PM it's very relaxed. I've had college classes that were more rigid.