I could spend hours going through my initial thoughts when I got my jury summons, but if you’ve ever received one, the feelings are probably pretty universal:
- Oh crap.
- I hope my panel number doesn’t get called.
- How do I get out of this?
As luck would have it, from Friday through the next Friday, I kept getting deferred. It was Friday afternoon, I figured I was in the clear. Then I got the call to report to the Superior Court of Santa Clara.
So here’s what I learned along the way.
Before You Go:
Bring Your Jury Summons with your Parking Permit
I, of course, brought every conceivable piece of paper relating to jury duty including the envelope and everything I read from the website that I printed out. You don’t need to go crazy, but you will need the summons and you’ll need the parking permit, too.
You may be sitting for hours. Heck, if you’re as unlucky as me, you may be sitting for months. The trick is to be comfortable while you wait because you will do a lot of it. A lot.
The food setup in the Santa Clara Hall of Justice consists of two food carts. Both accept cash only. Neither has anything you’d see on a Michelin star menu. If you don’t want to end up eating crap from a vending machine, the cafeteria down the street, or Togos, bring your lunch or bring snacks.
Jury Duty is where diets to go die.
Bring a Water Bottle
Here’s something nice, the water is free. In the Jury Room on the Second Floor, there is a water cooler (hot and cold). Leave the trendy ceramic or glass water bottle or mug at home, it won’t make it through security. A simple water bottle is the way to go. Unless you want to shell out $2.50 at the cart for a bottle of water or use a cup from the water cooler and hope that you don’t spill or in any other way embarrass yourself.
There are a few cubes to sit in with a laptop you can plug in. If you don’t want to lug that around, you can bring a book or your Kindle or phone or whatever entertains you during the down time. We even brought playing cards for a day or two.
I really don’t know how people did jury duty before mobile devices. It’s not like you can knit.
Leave Early. You’ll Need The Extra Time
Map it out, and leave early to account for traffic and sign in. If you need to report for Jury Selection at 9:00, be there by 8:30 at the latest. Why, you ask? Because there’s this little thing called Security. And Sign-In. You may arrive at 8:55 thinking you’ve made it five minutes early and you’re good to go until you see the security line out the door and down the street.
Know Your Work’s Jury Duty Policy
This is a must. Most cases last a few days, some a few weeks, and for us unlucky types, a few months. If your work only pays for two days of Jury Duty, then you need to either take PTO for the rest of it, or go on unpaid leave. You will definitely want to know this up front.
If this is an extreme financial hardship for you (not merely a financial or personal annoyance), you can petition the judge to be excused (more on that later).
Check Online or Call In
There are two ways to find out if the panel you’ve been assigned to has to report to the courthouse or not. You can call the number on your Juror Summons or you can check the website to see what the status of your panel is:
Do make sure you check the DATE of your service. The panel numbers are reused weekly, so if you didn’t look carefully, it’s possible you could waltz in a week early. You’re on the hook for a week. Typically, the week starts on Friday and goes until the next Friday. You may get postponed every single day. You may get called to report the next day. Check the website or call to know where you stand. No one likes to wake up thinking they’ll be deferred again only to find they have less than 15 minutes to report to the court house.
When You Arrive
Set your Navigation System to the parking lot across the street. Whatever you do, do not park at the meters. Your Jury Summons has a parking pass. If you park at the meters, you will not be reimbursed.
Santa Clara Superior Court – Hall of Justice
190 West Hedding Street
San Jose, CA
Civic Center Parking Garage
171 West Hedding Road
San Jose, CA
If you want to be on the same level as the pedestrian overpass so you’re not dodging traffic, park on the third level of the garage. You can walk past the enticing vending machines (get used to those), the two pay kiosks and the (now defunct) attendant station, which has been replaced by the two pay kiosks.
Bring your garage parking ticket with you. When you get to the Jury Clerk, she’ll take your Juror Parking Pass and your parking garage stub, stamp the garage stub, and return it to you. If you left your parking stub on the dashboard of your car, you’ll be taking a nice stroll back to get it.
- Keep your parking stub far away from credit cards (they could demagnetize it)
- Get your parking stub validated near the end of the day (less chance of demagnetizing)
- Validate your stamped parking stub at the pay kiosk before driving to the exit gate (to see if it demagnetized)
You’re probably wondering why all this talk about demagnetizing parking stubs and validation issues. I’m fairly certain that the City of Santa Clara has earned more money on stressed out Jurors whose parking ticket stub demagnetized (and paid just to get the heck out of there) than they have on monthly parking passes.
I have heard this story so many times, and experienced it myself twice, that it’s almost laughable how many times these parking stubs demagnetize. I have been the person at the parking garage dutifully placing my validated ticket in the machine as I sit at the gate and have it not only NOT lift the gate, but demand $11.00 from me.
The intercom does not work. Honking your horn does not get their attention right away and if it does, they don’t take kindly to it. Either way, it’s stressful and humiliating.
The guys in the office are not actively seeking out potentially horrified jurors whose ticket demagnetized frantically pushing buttons and panicking at the increasingly long line of cars behind them trying to leave. No one likes to wait when leaving the parking garage. No one.
So you can either get out of your car, brave the stink-eye from all the people who unfortunately picked the same gate as you, and run across rows of cars to the office and tell them your ticket demagnetized OR you can check your ticket before you ever get to the car to make sure it works.
There used to be a guy that would check your ticket at the pay station, but he’s been replaced. Now you have two pay kiosks to use to check. If your validated ticket is fine, it’ll say PAID and you can be confident that when you drive down to the gate, the bar will lift.
If, however, even after getting stamped, you see that you’re being charged for a few hours or a full day’s worth of parking, congratulations. Your ticket demagnetized.
If you pay because you just want OUT OF THERE and will sort it out with the courthouse or parking garage clerk the next day, don’t bother. They won’t reimburse you.
If you take your demagnetized ticket BACK to the clerk in the courthouse to re-stamp, don’t bother, if it’s demagnetized, there is nothing she can (or will) do.
You have only one option. Walk down to the first floor gates and go to the parking office. Knock on the door, tell them your ticket demagnetized (and make sure you’ve had it stamped by the Court Clerk because they’re not dumb) and they’ll do some magic like give you another validated ticket. Walk back to your car feeling secure knowing that when you get to the gate, that arm will rise.
Fun Fact: The elevators from the garage to the ground floor smell like burning. They may function, but they SMELL like a cable is about to snap. Just saying.
It is quite literally like going to the airport, except you’re not heading to Maui. As I mentioned before, arrive early. Some days, there’s no one there and you breeze through security like petals on the wind. Other days, the lines are longer than Star Wars ticket sales on opening day. Security screening is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.
Be prepared to put your purse, laptop, handbag, man bag, man purse, lunch bag, carrier bag, etc. on the conveyor belt to the right.
Be prepared to remove your belt, keys, watch, iPhone, etc. and place them in the grey bin to give to the men / women in uniform at the entrance. If you go through the metal detector and it still goes off, check to see if your shoes have buckles or your boots have zippers. Yes, there’s nothing like setting off that metal detector with 500 people behind you. Super fun. Not at all stressful.
Once you’re through, pick up your items (or get searched) and head directly to the second floor. You can take the elevators in front of you or you can take the stairs to the right of the elevators.
Fun Fact: Fit Bits don’t set off the metal detectors!
Now that you’ve made it to the second floor, if you’re lucky enough to have no line, make sure you have your summons filled out (you’ll see a sign as you’re standing in line that shows you what needs to be filled out) and sign it. If you didn’t do it, you’ll be slowing down an already painful process and annoy everyone behind you. It’s the part that verifies your address and your contact number. Remember: sign it.
Have the clerk stamp your parking ticket. She’ll point you to the doors into the Jury Room.
Fun Fact: Roz from Monsters Inc. works as a Court Clerk, you’ll know her the minute she opens her mouth. Do NOT forget to fill out your paperwork. I’m actually not kidding. Just wait.
Panel Certification Form
Before you go through those doors, into the possibly crammed Jury Room, check the wall beside the clerk and you’ll see a few black slots with paper in them. Those are panel certificates. They have your panel number and today’s date. Grab one. This says to your employer that you were at court that day. If you need to prove to your employer that you were at the courthouse and not the beach, you’ll want to pick this up EVERY DAY you’re in jury selection until or unless you get juror badge. Again, pick up one each day. They’re dated.
Jury Waiting Area
Once you’ve opened the door and headed into the Jury Room, you may be lucky and it’s completely bare. Or it’s crammed to the teeth and you’re lucky if you can get a seat.
Pro Tip: The Jury Room is a “U”, not an “L”. Keep walking, turn right, and keep walking some more. You’ll see a door. That leads to another portion of the waiting area. The place beyond that door is magic. It has couches. It has laptop cubes. It has puzzles. It has tables.
If you have to come back another day, there are TWO doors to the Jury Room, one as you exit the stairs (near the Interpreter Office) and the one by the clerk. Almost no one thinks to go through the door by the stairs, except those savvy jurors who have been there for a few days of jury selection or have been assigned to a case.
There are doors smack dab in the middle of the jury room which you may be tempted to avoid because, well, they’re closed, but don’t. Inside that area are washrooms, vending machines, a coffee vending machine (do not get the hot chocolate – it is nothing more than brown water), and a microwave. The loudspeaker in which the clerk can summon your panel to a court room can be heard from anywhere in the Jury Room (including that vending / washroom area).
If you meander off elsewhere in search of washrooms or food carts on the first floor, you will not hear her call your panel so keep that in mind.
Panels vs. Departments
This trips up a lot of people so let me explain. When you arrive for jury selection, you’re issued a panel number. Pay attention to your number. Your panel, as well as a bunch of other panels, may be called to one court room (a department). You may hear something like,
Jurors for Panels 7, 9, and 11, please report to Department 42, Judge X, on the third floor.
What this means is that your panel, along with a bunch of people from other panels, have to all go to the same court room (or department). Pay attention to where they send you. They typically have the court room location associated with its department number on a printed piece of paper in the hall on the second floor.
Jury Selection Process
Report to Your Department
Ohmigosh, they just called you to a court room! This is it!
Head to the court room like a lemming and pray the guy in front of you knows where he’s going.
You WILL be surprised to see the plaintiff(s)/defendant(s) standing there along with the prosecution and defense attorneys. It WILL freak you out a little. This went from some nebulous “man, I hope I get out of jury duty” to “holy crap, this is real right here”.
You’ll be directed by the deputy to find a seat. Don’t be jerk and sit on the aisle because everyone will have to step over you to get to the wall. Or, the deputy will call you out and force you to get up and move to the wall so they can fill all the seats and cram everyone in the court room. There could be up to a hundred of people in that room with you.
Once everyone is in, they will quite literally take attendance. This is why you want to be early. Because, guess what? If you are late, they can’t start. Seriously, nothing happens until you arrive. If it takes you 2 minutes or 10 minutes, we all wait. They may have the Court Clerk page you a few times until you complete the walk of shame red-faced into the court room.
And just so you know, they take attendance after morning break. They take attendance after lunch. They take attendance after afternoon break. If you’re “that guy/girl” who can’t get your crap together to make it back to the court room on time, you are now effectively making one hundred potential jurors, the prosecution/defense lawyers, court clerk, bailiffs, plaintiff(s)/defendant(s), and judge wait. For you. (And anyone else who couldn’t tell time or plan accordingly.)
If you think the stink-eye in high school is bad, be late. See what it feels like in a court room.
Introduction / Process Explained
When you sit down and attendance has been completed and everyone is there (or someone bailed and the court is coming after them), you’re good to go. You’re all sitting there thinking, what next?
The deputy will ask everyone to rise and the judge will come in. Once the judge has arrived, you’ll be allowed to sit down again. The judge will explain what, in simple terms, the case is about, who the plaintiff(s)/defendant(s) are, how long the trial is expected to last, and what the general process is going to be for jury selection.
Civil cases are typically about compensation.
Criminal cases involve finding defendant(s) “guilty” or “not guilty” of charges.
Cases can range from mundane to reporters outside court every day to everything in between.
Court Exemption Requests
If you do not feel that you can participate for the length of the trial because you’ll be having surgery or it is an extreme economic hardship, you can petition the court to relieve you. You will be directed to fill out a form provided by the deputy at your request and it will be given to the judge to review. You may be excused, you may not. If you don’t ask for the form when they offer it, you won’t be considered.
You will be paid $15/day plus .32 cents mileage one-way. You will have a check mailed to your house every two weeks. It’s not $15/hour, it’s $15/day. It basically covers your lunch. That’s it.
After you’ve been instructed on the process, you’ll be sent back to the Jury Room with a questionnaire that involves the case you’d be a jury on. They want to know about you, your history, if you know any of the participants in the case (not just plaintiffs/defendants, but witnesses, police, etc. as well), or if you have any ideologies or whatnot that can help them screen you out as an unsuitable juror or a particularly suitable one.
Filling out the Questionnaire saves them time asking the same question of over a hundred people. Note, that not only will the judge question you (in front of everyone), but the prosecution and defense will, too. And they will, in fact, end up repeating some of the same questions over and over again, anyway.
If you lie or provide information that you think will probably get you off jury duty, don’t count on it. This is not the judge’s first rodeo. And for everyone that is sitting in the court room while you go on about why you’re so unsuitable, they can tell you’re full of crap. It doesn’t always work, either.
When you have filled out the questionnaire on Day One, you’re typically sent home after that. The completed questionnaires will then be reviewed by the prosecution/defense/judge. You come back the next day. Remember all that great stuff you learned about parking? Remember your Department number? You’ll be in the same court room every day during jury selection.
The next day, when you return, the judge will have reviewed all the Jury Exception requests and potentially excuse 10, 30, or 2 people. For the rest of you, despite your crafty answers that you’re sure will get you excused immediately, you get to be questioned.
When they call your name, you will be sent to either a free juror seat or an alternate seat for questioning. That will surprise and scare the heck out of you. They don’t question you from the gallery. They don’t do it privately, if that’s what you were thinking. It will suddenly start to feel very real at this point.
First, the judge will question you based on your questionnaire. Then the prosecution. Then the defense. In front of everyone. What you answered on your questionnaire will be brought up in front of the entire court room. You may get asked the same question by the judge, the prosecution, and the defense attorney. In front of everyone. That will be scary. Or you may think it’s exhilarating. For me, it was intimidating.
Pro Tips for Questioning
- Speak up. So much time was wasted because the court reporter couldn’t understand a mumbling whisperer.
- Wait until the judge/prosecutor/defense has FINISHED their question before you start your answer. The court reporter is recording EVERYTHING. If you start talking while they’re still talking, it’s hard to transcribe.
- Do not simply nod or shake your head for your answer,. You must answer “yes” or “no” for the court reporter to record your answer.
- Speak slowly. Talking as fast Six from Blossom may be cute, but it sucks for the court reporter. If she can’t understand you, she’ll ask you to say it all over again and you will be reminded to slow down.
- Be concise. There is nothing worse than someone who loves the sound of their own voice.
- Be honest. Not only can the court staff tell when you’re trying out that “how to get out of jury tactic” you read on Google, but the rest of us can tell, too.
Between the twelve jury spots and the extra alternates, they’re probably calling around twenty people at a time. After the first batch has been questioned, the lawyers will look each of you up and down and then make their decision. Maybe the prosecution likes you, but the defense doesn’t. What that criteria is, I will never know because people I thought were gone for sure were accepted and people I thought were a shoo-in were excused. And then that accepted juror was excused in the next batch. It’s a mystery.
After the lawyers have deliberated, the judge will excuse people in big batches and if you are excused, your jury service is complete. You’re done. Off you go. So many big smiles leaving that court room.
If jury selection isn’t completed on that day, you come back the next day. If it doesn’t get done that day, you come back the next day. Excuse. Next batch. Until defense and prosecution settles on the jury. It can take one day. It can take five days. They can run out of people and have to start all over with a whole new series of panels.
You’ve Been Selected, Juror!
Even if there are prospective jurors still sitting in the gallery, if the prosecution accepts the jury as presented and so does defense, that’s it.
This will surprise and shock you. Before it felt kind of real, now it feels really real. One second you’ll be sitting there, thinking, “I’m an alternate, they’ll probably kick me when that other guy comes over.” Then suddenly, in the next wave, Juror #3 is excused and you’re being put in their seat and you’re all being asked to stand and suddenly you’re sworn in.
If you wanted to get out of jury duty and you failed, accept it. Now that you’re in it, take this responsibility seriously. We all joke about ducking jury duty, but once you’re in, it’s as real as it gets. Give it the respect and seriousness it deserves.
While you’re still gasping for breath, you’ll be given instructions on what happens next. They’ll probably dismiss you for the day, but not before they give you a green Juror badge on your way out. This is gold.
This is your FastPass to the front of the security line. It’s the one good thing about jury duty. Not kidding, you can pass all those poor schlubs waiting in a long line out the door. In fact, you are instructed to do so. You’re a juror now and it’s critical that you’re on time.
This badge of honor alerts lawyers and judges of your status. You will be instructed not to speak to anyone on the case directly (lawyers, plaintiffs, defendant, family, etc.) so if you see your court’s prosecutor getting in the elevator with you, and you wonder why they ignore you completely – going so far as to not even look at you – this is because they’re not allowed to. They will not say hi to you. You can’t say hi to them. You can’t say good morning. You can’t say anything. If you do, they’ll alert the judge and you all will be reminded in court, in front of everyone, not to do the thing they told you not to do. It will make you uncomfortable because your natural tendency is to be polite and greet them. It’s okay that it feels awkward not to.
Know this, If there is even a HINT that they think you overheard them speaking about the case, you will be called in and questioned. If there is a HINT that you accidentally got chatty with a family member of a plaintiff or defendant you will be called in and questioned. It’s a big big deal.
Research / Social Media / Gossip
You will be told not to research the case in any way. You will be told not to talk about the case with your fellow jurors or anyone else for that matter, including your coworkers, spouse, best friend, favorite bartender, counselor, etc. until it’s all over. This is going to be hard, but if you want to honor the case and the process, stay away. You can’t bias yourself. If you’re still coming in to work on the odd day between court dates, people are naturally going to want to know what the case is about. You can’t talk about it.
Juror Notebooks / Binders
You will be given a notebook, a pen, and a binder. The notebook is to, duh, take notes. Some people try to record everything (and miss watching witnesses on the stand), some record Prosecution Exhibit / Defense Exhibit # / items so that they can refer back to them later. Others simply record how believable they feel the witness is on a scale of 1 – 5. There is no right or wrong way to do this. You can’t take your notebook home and at the end of trial, your notes will be destroyed.
The binder contains the scheduled court dates, a list of restaurants, and a map of the immediate area. This will be handy if you discover that almost everyone on Day One goes to Togos down the street, thus, massive lines and long waits. The cafeteria down the street is not bad and the grill orders are pretty cheap.
From the Frying Pan Into the Fire
You will be surprised how quickly from opening statements the prosecution moves to calling the first witness or presenting their first piece of evidence. If you think there will be some break or some time for you to adjust to this whole new experience, it’s doubtful that will happen.
If you’ve noticed any pattern so far in this blog post, it’s that you will be surprised. A lot. No, it’s not like the movies and TV. Yes, you will need to unlearn a lot about what you thought trial was like. No, it’s not like Ally McBeal. It’s not even like LA Law or Suits.
You may find that it’s odd that after the prosecution provides this painstaking step-by-step process of introducing a piece of evidence or witness, that the defense painstakingly step-by-step must question that same thing. You may think, they just said this, why is this other guy saying this again?
Foundation. It’s one of the terms you’ll hear often as an objection. Other terms you might hear are:
- Misstates the evidence
- Asked and answered
- Assumes facts not in evidence
I’m not going to go into what they mean, but you’ll find the pace and stops/starts a little jarring at first. Like I said, it’s nothing like TV or the moves and the judge will tell you that, too.
Pro-Tip: The court will try to make this experience as comfortable as possible. If you are pregnant and need to pee, they’ll let you, even if it’s not a regularly scheduled break. If you are hard of hearing, they’ll provide a headset for you to amplify the sound (take it off when Judge/Lawyers are talking at the bench). If you’re diabetic or hypoglycemic and need to snack on something, you can have something that’s resealable (and not loud) or drink your water (from a water bottle) during the trial. If you just need to stretch because your back spasms, signal the deputy discreetly and silently, and they’ll come assist you.
You will quickly find a rhythm once the process of presenting evidence starts, you’ll notice a pattern of breaks, process, and day-to-day activity. You’ll not be freaking out when you walk into the building. You’ll probably start to recognize the guys at Security, and they you.
You’ll see those Day One prospective Jurors and the looks of abject terror on their faces and smile and shake your head. Oh, those were the days. If your trial lasts longer than most, you may even feel like this is your “second job”. You will be living between two worlds. It’ll be a bit weird. You may have even found your Juror friends you eat lunch with and hang out with on breaks.
This will become your new normal.
And then, all of a sudden and without warning, counsel is done presenting evidence. Suddenly, they’re doing closing arguments and you’re finding out what the next step is. You’re going to be shuffled out of the court room into the deliberation room with all your new besties to decide the verdict on all those charges or (civil case) compensation, or not.
You will be given instructions from the judge about the law as it applies to your case. In fact, the judge will read those instructions to you. It will take a lot of time. If you’re freaking out thinking you can’t possibly write all this information down, don’t worry, you will be given those instructions in written form.
In our case, we only received one copy of the instructions. We asked the court clerk for copies so each of us could have a copy to review and they did. Your instructions will include everything. Everything is spelled out. You will even receive question forms, if you have a question for the judge. You can’t speak to them directly, but you can have your foreman write them down and send them to the judge. Know that those questions, will be read in front of legal counsel as well.
Be concise. There’s only so much room to ask and only so much room for the judge to answer.
If this is a criminal case, deliberations are where those new best friends splinter like shards of wood. Those of us in deliberation would sit in the Jury Room watching all the fresh new jurors laughing and chatting and we’d smile. They’re still in the thick of evidence. Just wait, we think to ourselves. Just wait.
Choose a Good Foreman
You will be shocked at how something that clearly says X to you says Y to a fellow juror. You will be frustrated that you can’t agree. This is where finding a really good foreman comes into play. They are your mediator. They are the voice of reason. Make sure you choose someone who is a facilitator, not a dictator. If they have had previous experience on a jury before, that helps, but it’s not critical. Pick smart.
Every deliberation is different so I can only provide generalities, but know that depending on the severity of your case, if it’s civil or criminal, there will be arguments, possibly tears, definitely outbursts, and the tendency to get snippy with each other. If you can divorce yourself from your emotions and be respectful, you will have a better voice. If you are a petulant child or a booming verbal tyrant, you seriously cripple your ability to persuade anyone else.
Be Heard / Fight for your Vote
Speaking of voices, don’t be the guy/girl that doesn’t speak up. In the case of a criminal case, the vote must be unanimous. If you vote in a particular way, be prepared to back it up. Be prepared to answer thoughtfully and logically why you think the evidence speaks to you in the way it does. Now is not the time to lob your immovable vote and refuse to discuss the matter further.
What doesn’t belong in deliberation because it just wastes time:
- talking about evidence that wasn’t presented
- wondering why certain witnesses weren’t called and what they might have said
- talking about punishment
- immediately finding the defendant guilty and forcing pieces to fit your narrative
- ignoring the evidence you do have
- ignoring the rules of law in favor of your own personal justice
- the emotions of the witnesses
- the emotions of the family, friends, or coworkers of the defendants or victims
- the persuasiveness of the legal counsel
To be fair, it’s nearly impossible to do this because we all naturally want every piece of information possible to make the best decision. We don’t know why they didn’t get that subpoena. We don’t know why they didn’t have the defendant speak on their own behalf. We don’t know why this piece of evidence wasn’t presented. We wish there was a camera recording the whole thing to make this all clear for us. Why didn’t they wear a GoPro with audio the entire time?
Your job as a juror is to use the evidence you DO have, using the specific instructions on the law as it pertains to your case provided to you, to make an impartial verdict.
“Beyond a reasonable doubt” and “if the verdict could go between guilty/not guilty, you must find the defendant not guilty” will be a mantra in your head because the judge will remind you that defendants are innocent until proven guilty. Not the other way around. That may stick in your throat. It may leave a bad taste in your mouth.
It’s not complicated, but it IS complex.
Deliberation is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. Why? Because it is so damn EASY to judge people when there is no consequence. Everyone talks about judging and how we shouldn’t do it, but we do it all the time. You’ll judge this post. You’ll judge that lame link whatsername posted on Facebook the other day. You’ll judge so-and-so’s ridiculous (or super insightful) Twitter comment. You’ll judge blah blah’s political stance. You’ll judge whether or not you want to walk to your car in the dark alone or with a friend.
We judge instinctively.
When you’re a juror, however, you (and eleven other jurors) hold another human being’s life (or business or finances) in your hands. Your decision not only affects the plaintiff and defendant, it affects families, friends, victims families and friends – everyone involved directly and indirectly, deliberately and superficially. And when you realize that, especially in a tragic criminal case, you will feel that weight to your bones. If you don’t feel it to your bones, you’re not respecting the gut-wrenching seriousness of the responsibility you’ve been given.
It won’t hit you while you’re duking it out with the other jurors, snacking on M&Ms in the deliberation room in your comfortable chair.
You have the unique experience of intruding on lives of people you’ve never met in a very intimate way. You have been given a snapshot into their world that is no longer ‘normal’ because of an incident that changed the course of history for them. You’re been invited into a situation that police, detectives, lawyers, judges, grand juries, families, friends, coworkers, public servants, experts, witnesses, labs, etc. have spent hours/days/months/years involved in up to their eyeballs.
It won’t hit you while you’re looking over photographs or transcripts, dissecting a critical moment in time that changed peoples’ lives forever down to its minutiae.
For you, it’ll be like, “Man, this deliberation is taking forever. We’ve been at this for hours/days.” For those who anxiously await your decision, every minute is an excruciating lifetime. In your hands, you hold the promise of freedom, the hope of compensation, or the noose of punishment. You hold closure, or lack of it. You hold the end of a chapter in a very challenging book.
Still, it won’t hit you.
It will hit you when the door into the court room opens and you see that everybody is sitting there, staring at you, waiting on your verdict. You will feel the anxiety as you walk to your Juror seat and sit down, feeling the thick tension of the room. You will feel your guts churning with anticipation as you look at the plaintiffs/defendants knowing their fate is already decided, but they have no idea what it is.
This is when it will hit you. This is when it will become very very real.
And then the court clerk will start reading the charges and your verdicts. And it will hit you like a kick in the stomach that you have directly and unalterably changed the course of people’s lives forever.
This may be a point of relief for you, if the case was simple and evidence was cut and dry. This may be a point of exultation for you as you grant compensation to a wronged party.
This may be a point of frustration for you, if it was neither of these things.
The may be a point of torture for you, if your case was complicated, or the evidence was incomplete or inconclusive, or the verdict would have been different if you’d had “more.”
Know this: If you did your job, and you did it honestly and with abiding conviction according to the rules set before you, without bias or malice based on evidence presented alone, then that is all you can do.
Justice has been served.
There is a point when you are offered an opportunity to speak to legal counsel and other parties involved in the case. You don’t have to do this. If you want closure, or you want to ask questions, this is the time to do it. Likewise for counsel.
You’ll get to know a lot of faces very well over the course of your trial and, I would think, the other way around, but you can never speak to these people. When the verdict has been read, you may see on those familiar faces expressions of acceptance or disappointment, frustration, heartbreak, anger, or relief. Or all of the above. You may hear sobs of heartbreak or sighs of relief. You may see nothing at all because you can’t bear but look at your hands.
This time is an opportunity for counsel to talk about the “why’s” of your verdict and what could have helped you make your decision better. You have an opportunity to ask your own “why didn’t they” do this or that. You only get one or more pieces of the knowledge pie during jury duty. You don’t get the rest of the pie until it’s over, unless you talk to the attorneys afterwards.
Maybe it’s too hard. You can’t face the families or the plaintiffs and defendants. Maybe you have given everything you had and you just want to go home and try to forget everything. That’s your call and no one can force you to talk to anyone if you don’t feel comfortable doing so.
Here’s the deal: jury duty is actually fascinating if you approach it with the right attitude. It is interesting to see how the process works. It is humbling to see police officers, who can be a little scary, nervous on the witness stand because you see them as real human beings who are entwined in this thing along with you. It is an education to discover just how different being a juror is to what you see on TV or in the movies.
It is enlightening to get past the assumptions of what you assume jury duty is about and actually do it. It is wonderful meeting people you may never have had an occasion to meet otherwise. After all is said and done, everyone involved at the public level seems to be genuinely grateful for your service.
I hope this post sums up the entire experience for me from the fun to the funny to the heartbreaking and frustrating. That is what jury duty is all crammed into one surreal package.