pageok
pageok
pageok
Jury Service:

David Hardy reports:

My ex law partner was walking through the courthouse one day (this is a true story) and he saw an old client in the jury assembly area. They get to chatting, and he notices the guy has a copy of Mein Kampf under his arm. A version with the title in large letters on the cover. He asks what in the heck the guy is doing with it.

"Would you pick someone for a jury whom you saw reading Mein Kampf?"

"Hell, no!"

"Then why are you asking me why I'm reading it?"

JohnAnnArbor:
I'd be tempted, as a judge, to throw him in jail for a day for contempt for such an obvious ploy to evade service.
2.14.2006 6:57pm
R Simmons (mail):
I did an internship in the County Court system and most of my work was in the jury commission. It was amazing how often a prospective juror would claim they were unfit for jury duty because of racist beliefs. None went so far as to bring in a copy of Main Kampf, though.
2.14.2006 7:06pm
Jeff_M (mail):
And if you, as a judge, did something like that, you should be in there with him!
2.14.2006 7:07pm
Nunzio (mail):
Or you could just tell the judge that compulsory jury service violates the involuntary servitude part of the 13th Amendment.

Might also remind the judge that in 1789, jury trials did not last more than a few days, as they do now, so don't give me any of that crap about the long tradition of the jury system. The jury system would have been scotched on the Mayflower during the voyage over if they had foreseen the Super-Size trials that too-often plague the system now.

Then, again, if your employer actually pays for jury duty (they're not required to; only required not to fire you) you might find it better than your day job.
2.14.2006 7:13pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
I'd be tempted, as a judge, to throw him in jail for a day for contempt for such an obvious ploy to evade service.

I'm sorry, did Congress's AUMF also abolish the First Amendment?

It's so hard nowadays to figure out which portions of the Constitution have been X'd out. Maybe the White House could provide a real-time copy on its website.
2.14.2006 7:14pm
Kovarsky (mail):
I don't want to be misconstrued as advocating that one present him or herself as racist here, but is it possible that this serves an important self-selection interest.

I mean, I am the first to admit I am not familiar with empirical work on juries - but if I had to guess, I would guess that there is a positive correlation between willingness to serve on a jury and quality as a juror.

If we just ask everybody "hey, do you want to serve," then the "cost" of not serving is minimal, and we have no way of opting for the people that are just slightly indifferent over the people that are extremely indifferent.

on the other hand, if you have to look like kind of a schmuck by resorting to open expression of racist beliefs, carrying meinkampf, or drooling on yourself - well, that imposes a more significant cost and you're going to be more readily able to identify "bad jurors."

this supposition, of course, is open to a number of logical objections - such as the willingness to engage in such schmuckiness might also correlate with the opportunity cost of the person's time, which might correlate with education, which might in turn correlate with quality of a juror, etc.

but just a thought.
2.14.2006 7:15pm
Tony (mail):
Funny, I was reading Mein Kampf just a little while ago. Being an important historical document, and all that. Not in public, admittedly, but I find it disturbing that one might be "thrown in jail for contempt" for something that I did so recently and with no ulterior motive.

It's a sign of our anti-intellectual times that the reading of this important and relevant book is considered so outrageous and unusual that it would be presumed to be a crime in the right context. Think about what that implies. What makes jury selection so important? What's next, reading the Communist Manifesto on the subway will constitute "disturbing the peace"?
2.14.2006 7:15pm
Kovarsky (mail):
excuse me

and we have no way of opting for the people that are just slightly indifferent over the people that are extremely indifferent.

should be

and we have no way of opting for the people that are just slightly uninterested over the people that are extremely uninterested.
2.14.2006 7:16pm
Kovarsky (mail):
tony,

no offense, but i think you are missing the point. the guy brought mein kampf to look racist, not because he was a freewheeling intellectual.
2.14.2006 7:17pm
jmcg:
Bringing a prop in an attempt to avoid jury duty...now that's hard core. And totally unnecessary. And how is counsel supposed to spot your book all the way from his table anyway? All you have to do to avoid being selected is to voice a very pro-plaintiff or pro-defense perspective during voir dire, if in fact you have one.
2.14.2006 7:19pm
Brett Bellmore (mail):
Should have brought and distributed some Fully Informed Juror literature; He could have gotten the whole panel sent home! :) And just for knowing what their rights are... Now, that IS an outrage.
2.14.2006 7:25pm
mike (mail):
The "system" could do two things to improve Jury Duty .... 1) Allow people to select the time they will serve and be more flexible. Give them 4 options to choose that way they can manage thier lives better, ie not have jury duty over your head during finals week or vacation time. 2) Loose the duty carp. Most Americans do not care about duty. Put in terms they'll relate too ... Someone like you needs your help. Your personal experience may make the difference between a right decision and a wrong decision. If you are a gun owner, then a fellow gun owner may need your help.
2.14.2006 7:31pm
B. R. George (mail):
My plan was always just to find a way to signal that I believe in jury nullification.
2.14.2006 7:37pm
McGehee (never been able to log in) (mail) (www):
I once got dismissed from a jury pool for simply expressing the view that police officers are people like everyone else, and that it's way too easy to criticize their decisions from the perspective of seeing a brief news report on TV.

The jury I ended up serving on, the defense lawyer tried to identify and dismiss any juror who was a scientist or worked in a scientific field -- and then during the trial argued that a single, uncorroborated study favorable to his client, was "scientific fact." We found his client guilty.

I guess I should be glad he was in criminal defense rather than product liability.
2.14.2006 7:41pm
Tom Holsinger (mail):
I know a president of a software company which does business with the Disney corporation, among many others. He was called to jury duty for the negligence trial involving the Disneyland customer who was cut in half by a parted stay on the Treasure Island ship ride while standing in line.

He said his voir dire was hilarious. Plaintiffs' counsel asked him how comfortable he felt serving on the jury given the significant business his company did with Disney. He replied that he wasn't certain how to answer the question. The attorney scribbled in his notebook.

Then defendant's counsel asked why he had raised his hand when the judge asked everyone if they had any knowledge of the case. Instead of saying that he read of it in the newspapers, he replied:
"I was standing in line about 6-7 people behind the victim. My back was turned when he was killed. I heard the screams, whirled around and saw all the blood."

"Excuse for cause, your honor?"
2.14.2006 7:52pm
Traveler:
This is not an uncommon stunt -- I've seen Mein Kampf in the hands of prospective jurors in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

A funnier story, along the lines Tony raises above, took place in a western-U.S. court where a friend works a few months ago. A juror was excused for reading Will Eisner's graphic novel The Plot: The Secret Story of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion -- after being unable to convince the court that it was an expose of the forgery, not an anti-semitic work.
2.14.2006 8:03pm
Kovarsky (mail):
i wonder what they would do to you if they saw you holding a danish cartoon.
2.14.2006 8:12pm
anon) (mail):
This is why more people need to be designated enemy combatants. It is obvious that the executive is better suited to determining who should live or spend their lives in jail then a bunch of lay people with stupid books. Indeed, a very wise person that I know that works for the justice department told me that they think very hard before either charging someone or recommending that someone be designated an enemy combatant.

Since many of the conspirators agree with me, I assume that this is the best way to do things in the USA.
2.14.2006 8:28pm
Thumpe:
I'm puzzled that so many people want to get out of jury duty. I served on a jury once and found it very interesting. A woman was charged with murder, robbery, burglary and arson. It took a few weeks, including several days in deliberations. The days in court were easier than my days at work. That was four years ago, and I'm kind of looking forward to my next jury gig.
2.14.2006 8:44pm
Allen Asch (mail) (www):
Just having a copy of Mein Kampf should not be enough to get booted. I read a copy of Mein Kampf for a college history course and I'm sure others have as well. The guy with Mein Kampf would have to back it up with some bad voir dire responses to get booted from my jury. I'd initially interpret a prospective juror's holding of Mein Kampf as either a student of German history or someone who doesn't want to be on jury duty.

Either could be useful.

I picked a bunch of juries as a public defender and I liked to use the "first 12 people through the door" strategy if at all possible. Then you get to argue that you were willing to trust the common sense of the "first 12 people through the door" (hopefully in contrast to the prosecutor).

The Mein Kampf incident reminds me of Episode #65 of The Simpsons in which Homer advises:

"Getting out of jury duty is easy. The trick is to say you're prejudiced against all races."

Allen Asch
2.14.2006 8:55pm
need more jury trials (mail):
Tocqueville was right when he said that jury service is one of the best forms of democracy. The jury trial has all but vanished, but I'd love to see it revived in shorter trials lasting two weeks or less, so that almost every adult served as a juror every 3 years or so.

By the time you hit 45-50 you will have served on 7-10 juries. You'd know a lot about criminal law. You'd know something about business disputes and ordinary accidents. You'd be contributing to our social life in a profound way. It would make you a better voter. It would make you a better citizen. Bully for jury service! Bring back the jury trial! (Yeah, yeah, it's just wishful thinking.)
2.14.2006 8:57pm
Jason Fliegel (mail):
And then there's Sarah Silverman's joke (which contains a racial slur, so stop reading this post now if that offends you) about how a friend advised her that the best way to get out of jury duty is to write write "I hate chinks" on a form to get out of jury duty. Silverman replies, "But I didn't want people to think I was racist, so I just filled out the form and wrote 'I love chinks.'"
2.14.2006 9:03pm
Kovarsky (mail):
Jason,

I think she got in trouble for that, right?
2.14.2006 9:06pm
Paolo Sepi (mail) (www):
I find the unwillingness of otherwise intellingent people to serve on a jury disheartening. I was on a jury not too long ago, and the general educational and performance level of the jurors was high: one was a professor in charge of an institute at UTexas, two were self employed, I was a physician (out of six).

The state failed to prove its case, and we acquitted the defendant in about 5 minutes. It appeared to be the sort of case that the state couldn't drop for political reasons (domestic abuse), but which should have never made it to trial.

Although I could have earned more going to work for those 3 days, it was an educational experience, and I would not try to weasel out of jury duty. I may be a defendant someday, and if I'm innocent I want an intelligent jury. If I'm guilty of a malum prohibitum offense I'd hope for an intelligent jury and nullification. If I'm guilty of a malum in se offense I'll probably plea bargain.
2.14.2006 9:08pm
Igglephan:
I wouldn't mind being called,but if it's at a really bad time in my personal or professional live, though, I'll show up with a copy of the Federal Sentincing Guidelines, "To Kill a Mockingbird," and "Punitive Damages, How Juries Decide."
2.14.2006 9:11pm
Jason Fliegel (mail):
Kovarsky -- It depends what you mean by "in trouble." She first delivered the joke on Conan O'Brien, and there were complaints by individuals and by Asian-American advocacy groups. NBC wound up issuing an apology, but Silverman never did. She's more popular than ever these days (though by no means a comedy superstar).
2.14.2006 9:24pm
dick thompson (mail):
I have never understood how I kept getting dismissed. They would ask me what I did for a living and I would tell them I was a programmer analyst at a major bank. For some reason the lawyers would always dismiss me right then. Made no sense to me at all.
2.14.2006 9:25pm
FXKLM:

Most Americans do not care about duty. Put in terms they'll relate too ... Someone like you needs your help. Your personal experience may make the difference between a right decision and a wrong decision.


It might work, but it would dishonest. The more relevant your personal experience, the less likely you are to serve.
2.14.2006 9:28pm
treefroggy (mail):
Brett: You don't even need the literature. I showed up for federal jury duty last year and struck up a conversation with a fellow jury pool member about FIJA. About a half an hour later, both of us were told that we were no longer needed. 2 out of a jury pool of about 400 for this case. Go figure.
2.14.2006 9:41pm
Doc (mail):
I'm with Paolo, can't wait to do it again. The 12-person jury I was on was very well balanced in age, sex, race, and profession. The public defender was very good. It was quite an affirmation of the legal system, at least for me.

I recommend it - don't dodge, just show up and do your part, which is usually sitting around for a few hours, or days, while you don't get picked.
2.14.2006 10:19pm
BruceM (mail) (www):
It all depends though. If your client would be best served by a jury full of Nazis, then it's your duty as an attorney not to strike the Nazis from the panel just because you disagree with their ideology.

For example: If your client is a KKK member accused of murdering a young jewish girl, you might want Mr. Mein Kampf on your jury. Hopefully everyone here agrees, at the very least, that such a person deserves a vigorous defense.
2.14.2006 11:05pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
I thought I would be a smart guy and take "The Turner Diaries" to read...no one knew what it was...had several blue haired old ladies ask me what it was about.
2.14.2006 11:08pm
Starlight (mail):
Having been both a prosecutor and a public defendet in my youth, NO LAWYER will allow me to sit on a jury.
2.14.2006 11:31pm
Sarah (mail) (www):
I thought the best way of getting out of jury service was to get into law school.
2.14.2006 11:34pm
CJ:
I got called for it once. I got kicked for saying that I wouldn't vote to convict if it was one witness vs. one witness, and the only major difference between the credibility of the two was charisma (ie one wasn't a felon, etc).

Apparently a Biblical standard of reasonable proof of guilt doesn't cut it any more.
2.14.2006 11:42pm
Witness (mail):
I thought the best way of getting out of jury service was to get into law school.

You'd think so, but it didn't work for me. I'm currently a 3L, got called for jury duty a couple weeks ago, and actually got picked to serve for a criminal trial.

It's worth noting, however, that by the time I was eligible for a peremptory challenge, the prosecutor had already used his up on more odious sorts. The defense lawyers found me quite acceptable, though. In fact, after the verdict (an acquittal), they acknowledged being shocked that the prosecutor didn't save a strike for me; they really wanted me on there but didn't think I'd have a chance.

All in all, I considered myself very, very lucky to be able to have that experience before becoming a lawyer. I probably learned more in those 5 days (particularly the 2 days of deliberations) than I had in 2 and a half years of law school.
2.15.2006 12:43am
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Chuckling--my own experience with juries has been that they are first-rate finders of fact. And my experience with judges has been that they are much more affected by bias, sometimes of the worst sort (buddies with one attorney or another). It may be that having a panel of 8-12 people gives the benefit of their collective judgment and consensus, whereas one person tends to be both limited and accustomed to power and thus its abuse.

Only got called up once, and didn;t get selected. My former law partner got called up and had an unusual exprience. The judge pulled him in individually, and said that with his legal experience (which was both prosecution and defense), she would ask him to decline if chosen as foreman. [ultimately, he was not selected anyway].

To my mind that was error. The jury may choose its own foreman, and the judge may not more affect that than the jury may dictate its choice of judge.
2.15.2006 1:22am
Thomas Roland (mail):
Sarah Silverman "got in trouble" with an Asian anti-defamation group (I forget the name) which actually helped her get a lot of publicity, e.g., on Bill Maher's show. Her humor is raw, raw, raw. I love it, but would take only my wife to the movie "Jesus is Magic" and no other friend or acquaintance for fear they would be offended.

But she didn't "get in trouble" in some kind of real-life sense. For instance, she didn't actually fill out such a jury form--if was a joke in her role as a stand-up comedian.
2.15.2006 1:38am
Cal Lanier (mail) (www):
"I'm puzzled that so many people want to get out of jury duty. "

I'm puzzled that anyone would be incapable of grasping that significant financial or career hardship are both reasonable motives.

I've never been to jury duty, although I've been summoned about four times. I have the hardship note on file, ready to print out again. I'm assuming it's still good after my son goes off to college, since I can legitimately claim that jury duty interferes with my ability to make a living. Unless, of course, they're prepared to guarantee me a scheduled trial that takes just 3-4 days. But they aren't.

What astonishes me about jury duty is that the system tolerates such bizarre inequities. Some people are paid full time by their employer. Others aren't paid anything. Still others can lose their job--employers can't fire full-time employees, but they can let go of temp workers and consultants for any reason at all. And that's just the money issue. Plenty of people have jobs and careers that are thrown completely out of whack with that sort of required and last minute absence.

What they should do is run trials in shifts. Then no one has much of an excuse to get out of jury duty, and we'd get a lot more work done. Of course, the judges would bitch and the rest of the workers are union, so I guess it's a non-starter for anything other than limited situations.
2.15.2006 3:10am
Perseus (mail):
An opportune post as I teach Tocqueville.

Most Americans do not care about duty. Put in terms they'll relate too ... Someone like you needs your help. Your personal experience may make the difference between a right decision and a wrong decision. If you are a gun owner, then a fellow gun owner may need your help.

Also very Tocquevillian: an appeal to the doctrine of enlightened self-interest.

In Southern California, they are pretty flexible about your date of service: you may schedule your week of service (subject to availability) during a 3 month period. So I'm skeptical of most people's excuses here. Just individualism (in the Tocquevillian sense of the term) run amok.

Alas, I have little chance of serving on a jury.
2.15.2006 4:00am
Bob Smith (mail):
>I would tell them I was a programmer analyst at a major bank.
>For some reason the lawyers would always dismiss me right then.

I had the same experience. Told them I was a software engineer, bam immediate dismissal. I suspect that prospective jurors perceived as highly intelligent and/or indendent of mind are automatically punted by both prosecutor and defense. As this was in Silicon Valley, civil trials were more hilarious, as trying to find jurors that *lack* requisite technical knowledge was a near-futile endeavor.
2.15.2006 6:15am
mike (mail):
A side note .... wasn't John Kerry on a jury recently?
2.15.2006 6:30am
Kieran Jadiker-Smith (mail):
It's a very amusing little story, but I hope the Mein Kampf-toting guy never, ever complains about a stupid jury verdict for the remainder of his days on earth.

Also, it seems like a pretty transparent ploy. A smarter jury-evader would choose a less incendiary volume that would still be suggestive enough of prosecution- or defense-friendliness that one side or the other would burn a peremptory (assuming they had one left) to push him off the panel. A book by Ann Coulter or Michael Moore or someone of their respective ilks should be sufficient to the task.
2.15.2006 6:56am
Mr. Bingley (www):
Yeah, I wouldn't use Mein Kampf, but maybe the latest issue of Combat Knives or somesuch.
2.15.2006 8:01am
Max:
If you're a young white male who wants to get off of a jury, there is a simple solution: wear a suit and a bow tie. The defense lawyers will assume you're a sure vote to convict and strike you.
2.15.2006 8:51am
Public_Defender:
You have to have really warped values to prefer being considered a Nazi than to serve on a jury.

Plus, the Nazi-wannabe still has to show up and go through voir dire, so it doesn't even save him any time. This guy has the time-management skills of my clients who spend days plotting, committing, and covering up the theft of $100.00 worth of junk.
2.15.2006 8:55am
Devilbunny (mail):
I've always gotten out of jury duty, though not simply because I'm unwilling to serve. I would have been happy to do so just after college, or during any number of off-times in medical school.

But now I'm in my residency, and if I were stuck in a trial (at a wage that doesn't cover gas and parking) that were to last several months... well, I have to spend that much longer in residency at the end. Not to mention that any such service would come out of my vacation time to begin with, and that I'd be seriously screwing over fellow residents (who would potentially find themselves in a position where they would have to violate duty hours requirements in order to provide the requisite call coverage).

The potential prolonged nature of such trials is a serious deterrent to would-be jurors. The lack of forewarning (you get about two weeks' notice) means that those with inflexible schedules simply can't do it.
2.15.2006 9:03am
Jeek:
"If you're a young white male who wants to get off of a jury, there is a simple solution: wear a suit and a bow tie." <-- Why a bow tie? Wouldn't a regular tie also work? Granted, people who wear bow ties are usually mentally unbalanced... =)
2.15.2006 9:13am
Public_Defender:
As a side note, I will never be an actual juror in a felony case. One of my biggest wins was catching a high-level prosecutor hiding evidence in a capital case.

If I were in voir dire and the judge asks whether any of us prospective jurors know the prosecutors, could I say in front of the rest of the panel, "Yes, I caught him cheating in a death penalty case"?
2.15.2006 9:20am
Cal Lanier (mail) (www):
"The potential prolonged nature of such trials is a serious deterrent to would-be jurors. The lack of forewarning (you get about two weeks' notice) means that those with inflexible schedules simply can't do it."

Exactly--and that's in addition to legitimate financial hardship.

"So I'm skeptical of most people's excuses here."

It's just remotely possible that everyone posting doesn't live in Southern California. I trust that you don't make such egregious assumptions while serving as a juror.
2.15.2006 11:33am
cathyf:
"I'm puzzled that so many people want to get out of jury duty. "

I'm puzzled that anyone would be incapable of grasping that significant financial or career hardship are both reasonable motives.
And that's not the only consideration. My mom was called to spend 1 week in a civil court jury room when she was a nurse in a chronically short-staffed neo-natal intensive care unit. She would never have been seated because she was a health-care professional, and the fact that her replacement was a less-specialized pool nurse meant that sitting in the jury room could very well have cost some baby his/her life. She wrote a letter on the third day, and the judge agreed to dismiss her.

But the funny thing is what happened on the 2nd day. During questioning for a particular jury, she was asked a general open-ended question about whether there was any factor which would prevent her from delivering a fair verdict. She replied, pointing to one of the lawyers who had been a completely snotty asshole the whole time, "You mean like that guy is being such a jerk that no matter what the facts are of the case I'll probably be unable to vote in favor of his client?" The judge grinned at her, said, "Yep, just like that! You're excused." and then turned to the jerk and his client and said that they should take this to heart.

cathy :-)
2.15.2006 11:41am
Public_Defender:
In my county, jurors can generally postpone service once, so there is no problem of too-short of a notice.

And yes, two weeks of your time can be a pain, but how often do you have to serve? Most people go decades between service notices. A couple weeks of service every decade or so (or even every few years) is part of the price of citizenship, like paying taxes.

If you had to give two weeks every ten years, that would be the equivalent of an additional 0.38% tax, even if you don't have an employer to reimburse you.

I know it's a hardship for some lower-income people, but the whining from upper-middle-class and upper-class people is really annoying. At a bar association meeting, a private practice lawyer complained that it would be a hardship for her or her physician-husband to serve on a jury because, "if we don't work, we don't eat." Puh-leeeze.
2.15.2006 11:47am
Public_Defender:
. . .My mom was called to spend 1 week in a civil court jury room when she was a nurse in a chronically short-staffed neo-natal intensive care unit. She would never have been seated because she was a health-care professional, and the fact that her replacement was a less-specialized pool nurse meant that sitting in the jury room could very well have cost some baby his/her life. She wrote a letter on the third day, and the judge agreed to dismiss her. . . .
The people who make stupid excuses hurt people like the nurse in this post. A decent jury commissioner would excuse people whose absense from work would truly cause a risk to public safety. In this case, when a judge saw the letter requesting that this nurse be excused, he immediately did so. It sounds like the system worked.

If the nurse did not send a letter requesting an excuse in before the first day of service (the post is silent on that), she is the one who "could very well have cost some baby his/her life."

But also remember, if people in medical facilities work too hard to avoid jury service, they shouldn't complain about the quality of juries hearing med mal cases.
2.15.2006 12:07pm
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
I am reminded of an episode of the TV series Becker from a few years back, One Angry Man: After Becker's attempt to skirt jury duty is screwed up by his ditzy assistant, Linda, he embraces the idea, and thinks his intelligence will make him among the first picked.

When he goes in for jury selection, and tries to impress the attorneys with the fact that he's reading a book on jurisprudence, he's immediately excluded, and sent back to the pool, where you have to be passed-over for two weeks before you are excused.

He continues to go up for selection, and no matter how much he dumbs-down his responses to questions - right down to the mere fact that he is reading a book, any book, he gets sent back to the pool.
2.15.2006 12:18pm
NickM (mail) (www):
I have found the jury selection process in Los Angeles County to be bizarre. I have not been called since 1992 for jury service (I was a law student then and received a quick dismissal). Meanwhile, my mother, who also lives in the same county, has been called every year from 1997 on. A great aunt got called for 5 years following her death.

Looks can often be deceiving from jurors. I had a breach of contract trial in Long Beach, CA in 2000 where a casual observer would have probably figured most of the jurors to be lower middle class. Instead, 10 of the 12 had bachelor's degrees or higher (the two who didn't were the wife of a doctor and the little old lady with thick glasses in the back row, who was the retired private secretary to a brigadier general). The ponytailed guy who showed up every day in a t-shirt, faded jeans, and ratty sneakers (and became foreman) was a senior engineer at Boeing; the frumpy middle-aged Hispanic woman who didn't make much eye contact was an ICU nurse; all 3 of the men who wore Hawaiian shirts on the day the jury was selected worked in aerospace firms; and the woman who said the last 3 books she read were Harlequin romance novels was a top administrator with a local school district.

Nick
2.15.2006 12:34pm
duneclimb:
My experience on jury duty in a check-forging case a few years ago, shortly after Illinois removed its previously automatic exemption for lawyers, was somewhat amusing.

First, sitting in the box waiting for voir dire, the man next to me said, "Watch this -- I'm going to get out of here fast." When the judge asked if anyone could not approach the case fairly and with an open mind, this guy raised his hand and said, "Yes, because I believe in the death penalty." In a check-forging case! The judge gave him a look and, in a harsh tone, told him to join the judge and lawyers in chambers. The man walked out of there a few minutes later -- excused from service, but looking as though he had been taken to the woodshed. The judge then lectured the rest of us on taking our obligations seriously.

When voir dire reached me, the judge elicited that I was a employment litigator who had practiced for 20 years representing management. He then asked me, "Can you take everything you learned about criminal law in school, and put it out of your head for the purpose of this trial?" Given that crim law wasn't one of my stronger subjects, I said, "If Your Honor instructs me to do so, I can." Not surprisingly, given that lawyers typically don't want lawyers on juries, I was excused on a peremptory.
2.15.2006 1:30pm
Anthony Argyriou (mail):
I've blown off jury duty almost every time I've been called (and it ain't "decades" between calls, Mr. Public_Defender) because I've either been single and self-supporting or married and the only income, working at firms which won't pay me for time spent on jury duty.

The two times I haven't sent in the notice saying I'm unable to serve (I won't even show up for the first day if I'm not being paid) were once in college, where the entire pool was dismissed because all the day's cases were settled, and once while I was unemployed, where I was dismissed because I had a forthcoming trial date which might have occurred while I was still on the jury.

During the seating of the panel in the second case, where I stayed until I realized there was a potential conflict, I was amused by the antics of the owner of a local winery trying to get off the jury. He complained of a bad back which would make it difficult to sit in place for more than an hour or two at a time, and was openly disrespectful to the lawyers, and stated he would vote in favor of whichever lawyer had annoyed him the least, regardless of the facts of the case. He was eventually dismissed.
2.15.2006 2:04pm
Public_Defender:
Anthony Argyriou,

I agree that some people have the bad luck to be called several times over a few years, but many, many other people never get called or get called once. My father has been called once in his whole life. My mother, my wife and I have never been called. Neither have many of my colleagues.

I would wager that the median is more than a decade between jury duty calls. But I admit that, like you, I am basing my figures entirely on anecdotal evidence. It would be interesting to see good statistics on the issue.
2.15.2006 2:24pm
Perseus (mail):
It's just remotely possible that everyone posting doesn't live in Southern California. I trust that you don't make such egregious assumptions while serving as a juror.

Perhaps you might want to avoid making the egregious assumption that I meant the people posting here at Volokh rather than the people living here in SoCal.
2.15.2006 3:46pm
Nony Mouse:
Actually Perseus, your post did come off as a "this is how it's done in CA, therefore this is how it's done everywhere." Which is not the case.
The only time I've been called for Jury Duty where I currently live, I filled out the form to delay it for a few months (I'd already bought airline tickets for a trip), but they haven't wanted me back yet.
2.15.2006 5:55pm
Gavin Peters (mail):
I live in a different country than I'm a citizen of now, so I'm ineligable for jury duty. But, back in Toronto, I was called and served once.

The thing that really irked me was the propaganda videos. A lot of them compared it to democracy, and in particular, to Canadian democracy.

How many democratic countries lack jury trials? At least Israel, does France too?

How many non-democratic countries have jury trials? China comes to mind; there are jury trials in the SAR of Hong Kong. Are there any other non-democracies with Jury trials?

I understand Tocquevillian sort of philosophic arguments along this line, but these videos were anything but. They just gushed happy things about the Canadian justice system while saying words like justice and democracy as often as possible.
2.15.2006 6:15pm
ray_g:
I live in a town that has a high percentage of scientists and engineers in the population. Most people that I know have no objection to serving on a jury, what they hate is having to go thru the selection process when there is a very high probability that they will be rejected because, as other posters have noted, there does seem to be a tendency for the selection process to weed out anyone with more than half a brain. It just seems like a pointless waste of time. I think that both that problem, and the problem of people gaming the selection process to avoid jury duty, could be solved if the selection process was streamlined. Specifically, restrict the reasons for rejecting jurors to egregious things, not just because they may have heard or read something about the case or the lawyer thinks they might be too smart to be easily swayed by his arguments. When I read about cases when they have to go thru > 100 people to seat 12, or give the potential jury members long questionnaires, it appears to me that the lawyers (both prosecution and defense) are the ones gaming the system to the detriment of justice.
2.15.2006 6:17pm
Perseus (mail):
Eliminating peremptory challenges would make it more difficult to keep people off with half a brain.

And I think that too often people (all across the nation--don't want any more confusion) think that the responsibility of a citizen to serve on a jury should be made as fast, effortless, and convenient as going to a drive-through window. Heaven forbid that the responsibilities of citizenship might force you to postpone--let alone cancel--your vacation to the Bahamas.
2.15.2006 7:02pm
Thumpe:
"I'm puzzled that anyone would be incapable of grasping that significant financial or career hardship are both reasonable motives."

Yes, Cal, I grasp it. No need to get snide. I also recognize that there are plenty of other legitimate reasons to want or need to get out of jury duty (e.g., the intensive care nurse). But I've run across many people who have no real reason to want to avoid service yet want to get out anyway because they've heard that they should.
2.15.2006 8:36pm
PeteRR (mail):
We're the only ones involved in the process who aren't being compensated for our time. As the sole wage earner in my household, I can't afford to go slowly bankrupt. In addition, my employer has spent many 1000's of dollars training me to do my job and has an expectation that I will be there to perform it when needed.

Try this:

Take the 1st group of 12 + 2 citizens to be called as your jury.

Hold court for more than 6 hours in a day. Start at 7:30AM and go to 5PM. Two 15 minute breaks and and a 1/2 hour for lunch will instill a sense of urgency in all participants. The rest of us manage to accomplish quite a lot on that schedule.

Let us ask questions of witnesses. It'll get us involved and keep us interested.
2.15.2006 8:57pm
Brutus:
if people in medical facilities work too hard to avoid jury service, they shouldn't complain about the quality of juries hearing med mal cases.

Bah, these people are going to get excluded on a peremptory anyway, even if they don't weasel out.

stated he would vote in favor of whichever lawyer had annoyed him the least, regardless of the facts of the case.

Lawyers better assume everyone does this, even if they don't openly say so. =)
2.16.2006 12:19am
Ken Lammers (mail) (www):
Perseus,

The problem with eliminating peremptory strikes is that every lawyer who has tried a few cases has seen that juror who answers all the questions in a manner which will keep her from being struck for reason, but are clearly lying.
2.16.2006 6:21am
JR Hodel (mail):
Hi:

I get called to jury duty every 2-3 years. I work for WV DEP as a software guy. My first term of court I served on 2 capital murder cases, one ended on Oct 31 and the second on Dec 27th. That was quite a damper on xmas spirit!

The juries contained folks from asphalt pavers, miners and warehouse clerks to nurses, teachers and social workers. They all tried hard to pay attention and do a good job. I was frankly surprised how seriously everyone took their responsibilities.

I was picked as foreman on the first case. We aquited the defendent in about 2 hours - he was threatened by the victim, who was a convicted murderer out on probation, it seemed like a fairly good case of self-defence, even if it may not have fit into the statutes quite perfectly.

The second case, they apologized for calling me a second time, but asked me to volunteer - they wanted a good pool, and in a county as rural as mine that can be a challenge - there aren't any stoplights, not one, that's how rural we are.

I declined foremanship that time, and it took longer, more like 5 or 6 hours, but around 11 pm we acquited, reasonable doubt about deliberate intent, no options but 1st degree murder, we couldn't see that. It was definately at least negligent homicide, but that wasn't an option.

I'll never forget either experience, and hope I'm not called to do that again, because people's lives were ruined.

We did work full days, for about 2 weeks in each case. It was quite business-like, but that probably depends on the judge to a large extent, many of them have other responsibilities and in my county there are only 2 judges for a 2-county district. So even if a judge has an ongoing case, he will still need to break for other issues.

Just my $0.02.
2.16.2006 9:59am
Public_Defender:
JR Hodel,

Two jury terms and two acquittals? I don't think you'll have to worry about actually serving on a third criminal jury. The local prosecutor will almost certainly strike you in a heartbeat.

Many people have discussed peremptories and challenges for cause. Since the State needs a unanimous jury to do anything against my clients, I'd be tempted just to take the first twelve every time if I could. I only need one.

Most of the time, voir dire is used by the prosecutor to weed out people like Hodel. That is, anyone skeptical of the government or willing to actually apply the reasonable doubt standard. The defense is generally just playing catch-up.
2.16.2006 2:36pm
Not a lawyer, but ...:
And yes, two weeks of your time can be a pain, but how often do you have to serve?

California implemented, several years ago, a "one day or one trial" rule. Either you're picked for a trial on your first day of jury duty, or you're dismissed. King County (where Seattle is) has a similar rule (2 days or one trial).

In my opinion, any large jurisdiction that continues to require those called for jury duty to be available (or worse, present) during an entire two week period is doing this because it's easy for the administrative staff (aka "bureaucrats"), not because it's necessary.

Most trials last for only a few days (and many times, after a jury is empaneled, the defendant decides to do a plea bargain), so the one day or one trial approach goes a long way toward mitigating the concerns of those who face financial hardships. Better yet, of course, would be reasonable reimbursement starting on day two (which would be another way to get jurisdictions to stop treating so casually the time of those called for jury duty).
2.16.2006 3:40pm
Kieran Jadiker-Smith (mail):
Public_Defender: When I was called in for jury service (in California), during voir dire they asked about people's previous jury service, but the judge and the lawyers were careful to tell prospective jurors not to indicate how the juries on which they had sat before ruled, though they did ask if their respective juries reached a verdict or not. Is this not a uniform practice? Does it vary from state to state, or courtroom to courtroom, whether the lawyers can ask if people with criminal jury experience found for the prosecution or the defense?
2.17.2006 9:34pm