Wednesday, January 16, 2013

You've Been Summoned For Jury Duty

It finally happened: I got called for jury duty.

A couple of years ago I filled out the questionnaire but I never got called. I figured they forgot about me. But my number came up and so I dutifully went to the Courthouse to perform my civic duty to serve on a jury of [someone's] peers.

It's completely automated, so the selection pool is large and you only have to serve 1 day or 1 trial if it goes over. Before that you had to serve out a 2 month period.  (Is that like prison for the innocent?)

We got little yellow placards with our juror number on it and a bar code for scanning.  Mostly it was waiting around, a little orientation video, and some more waiting around. They pay $30 a day for your expenses, but I didn't want to deal with that, so I just donated my stipend back to the Courthouse.

I finally got picked for a trial, went into the courtroom and got my instructions from the judge. In Virginia the jury not only decides guilt or innocence but also determines the sentence for the defendant if convicted.

One of the most interesting things was the lady next to the judge's bench having an asthma attack. At least that's what it looked like to me. She was actually the court stenographer speaking into a stenomask.


After swearing we would follow the law and be impartial, etc. the opposing lawyers engaged in Voir Dire which is a French term "to say what is true".  In reality it is another screening process by which they reject potential jurors "for cause", i.e. you are biased in some way, or for no reason at all "move to strike" so they can get down from 14 to 7 jurors.

This was a criminal trial for assaulting an officer. One lady said she couldn't be impartial because she had worked with police in the past, so she got struck for cause, and another guy and myself got struck for no cause by the defense because we were related to law enforcement officers. Well, my brother-in-law is only a Fire Marshall, but they carry guns and have police powers in any case.  I was disappointed, because I figure police are no better and no worse than the general population on average, so I could have been impartial.

So now I won't get called again for 3 years, so I'll have to wait and see what a full trial is really like. If you get called up, I recommend you go and not try to get out of it. This is democracy in action!

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