Now that I've been summoned to jury duty, how can I maximize my chances of serving on a jury?
January 29, 2010 7:53 AM   Subscribe

I've received a summons for jury duty. How can I maximize my chances of actually serving on a trial?
posted by box to Law & Government (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Look as normal as possible. Be as well groomed as possible.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 7:55 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

They'll give you numerous opportunities to get out of it, asking if you're biased in any way, etc. Just play the game and be agreeable about everything. You'll probably get chosen.
posted by Liquidwolf at 7:56 AM on January 29, 2010

Oh man! I want to be on jury duty! (No, really)

What I've heard from friend who are attorneys is that they're looking for people who are very even keeled, not overly reactive (but not deadpan) about the questions answered and be very, very clear that you RESERVE ALL JUDGEMENTS UNTIL THEY ARE PROVEN. Also, dress well and don't speak to other jury contestants - a trial lawyer friend says that he likes to eliminate the chatty people as soon as quickly, since they can sway a jury with incessant chattering and they want the jury to blend into the background, so no bright orange jumpsuits (well, no bright orange jumpsuits for other obvious reasons as well).
posted by banannafish at 7:57 AM on January 29, 2010

Response by poster: (This question is a great source of broad information about jury duty, but it doesn't much cover the specific question of how to get picked.)
posted by box at 7:58 AM on January 29, 2010

There isn't necessarily anything you can do. A lot of people never even make it into the courtroom. The jury pool for a given day is far larger than the number of people they need that day, and they start going through the pool in some arbitrary order no one really has any control over. Most of the time they get the number of jurors they're looking for before they go through the whole pool, and everyone else gets to go home, their obligation fulfilled.

If you are (un)lucky enough to actually make it into voir dire, yes, dress neatly and professionally, but more than that, pay attention. If you look like you're uninterested, one of the attorneys may choose to strike you for that reason.

But there are a ton of things which can get you stricken over which you have no control, e.g. knowing one of the parties, being an expert in the field in question (plaintiff's attorneys don't like it when someone on the jury knows more about the subject than they do), or just being from a demographic which one attorney thinks isn't favorable for his client.

Show up, answer questions honestly, and your duty will be fufilled, whether or not you're selected.
posted by valkyryn at 8:02 AM on January 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

But there are a ton of things which can get you stricken over which you have no control, e.g. knowing one of the parties, being an expert in the field in question (plaintiff's attorneys don't like it when someone on the jury knows more about the subject than they do), or just being from a demographic which one attorney thinks isn't favorable for his client.

My experience, in New York City, has been that, during voir dire, if you either know someone related to the case or are expert in a subject matter pertinent to the case, you will not be chosen for that jury, however, you will be shunted back into the jury pool and possibly go before other lawyers and get voir dired again. So merely being stricken from one trial doesn't mean you won't get to serve on a jury.

This applies to petit juries, not grand juries. Which, incidentally, would be pertinent to your question. Did you get a grand jury or petit jury summons? Not all states have grand juries. And, of course, I'm assuming that you're in the US...
posted by dfriedman at 8:06 AM on January 29, 2010

Response by poster: I'm in Arkansas, and this is for a state circuit court. I believe it's petit jury, but I may be mistaken (don't have the summons on hand).
posted by box at 8:13 AM on January 29, 2010

I think it's a matter of luck (good or bad is up to you). I was called in for a voir dire for a first degree murder trial. You get asked a lot of the same questions over that you were asked in the general panel. I wasn't related to anyone on the case, didn't know a soul involved in the case, didn't have any reason why I couldn't serve on the jury (time, employment, etc.), and I was dismissed. I didn't know it was for a murder trial until I was in the court room and the judge said so, etc.

Here in MA, there's a long questionnaire that is completed prior to entering the courtroom itself that asks for a ton of information on your history.

Perhaps I was dismissed because I was a white female and the defendants were black, so the defense issued a challenge against me. Or perhaps I was challenged by the prosecution because I had been a crime victim in the past (mugged once more than five years ago and it really hasn't affected me in any way longterm except I keep my purse a bit closer). Perhaps the judge just decided I wouldn't be a good juror for this case. Maybe I was a little too nervous and all parties agreed, or maybe the lawyer, the clerk, or the judge attended the law school at the university I work for. I don't know. I wasn't told. What I wasn't asked is why I would make a good juror. The process is done in the negative for why you wouldn't make a good juror and goes from there.
posted by zizzle at 8:27 AM on January 29, 2010

When I was called in for jury duty, a group of maybe 50 of us were pulled into a room to potentially be called for duty on a rape case. The process started with the judge asking general questions of the entire group: raise your hand if you know any of these people (the defendant and lawyers), raise your hand if you've ever been a victim of a violent crime, raise your hand if you feel you would not be able to be impartial in a rape case, etc. After a bunch of these the judge asked that anyone who had raised their hand to any questions go back to the main jury pool. So be honest, but it seems that raising your hand is a good way to get yourself rejected.
posted by vytae at 9:04 AM on January 29, 2010

Lawyer here. There are things you can do to get kicked off, but not much you can do to stay on. Both sides, if they're paying attention, are going to make snap judgments based on lots of things, including your job, people in your family (or lack thereof), etc. These decisions are as often based on voodoo as they are on facts, so you can't really predict the answers they want (nor should you try).

So, what are the things you can avoid doing? A few:

1. Be fair. Anyone who has really strong opinions one way or another on the main issues in the case will get kicked. Be willing to listen to the evidence, and put your preconceptions aside. They'll ask if you can do that. If you can, say so.

2. Don't have an experience related to the case. This is luck. If it's a breach of contract case, and you have an experience with breach of contract, you're probably getting kicked off. If it's a sexual abuse case and you've been abused, you're not staying on, etc.

3. Don't come across as a "leader." Lawyers are looking to see who will lead the conversation in jury deliberations, and to make sure they swing their way. If you're not a leader, they're not going to waste their peremptory challenges to kick you off.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 9:10 AM on January 29, 2010

I've been called twice and selected twice for jury duty and I would agree with vytae that raising your hand for any of those questions probably eliminates you right away. I'm not sure why I get picked although you could try dressing neatly and rather conservatively, looking calm and not irritated at the fact that you have to be there. I liked to think that since I write 'scientist' for profession they think I will be very rational but that's probably wishful thinking.
posted by violette at 9:20 AM on January 29, 2010

kingjoeshmoe has it.

In theory, the least-objectionable juror (for both sides) is a Postal Service employee who does not own a computer or TV, never reads the newspaper, and has never been the victim of a crime, never committed a crime, and has no relatives who have ever interacted with the criminal justice system.

Getting paid by your employer for every day of jury service is truly the most important factor in getting seated on any jury -- it makes you eligible for any kind (and length) of case they may throw your way. And being a blank slate -- with no opinion or experience with anything associated with the case -- eliminates the knee-jerk reactions of counsel. That only leaves your ethnicity, age, marital status, and sex, which technically are not legitimate reasons for exclusion (or inclusion), but are.

In practice, however, it's impossible to game the system. You have no idea what the attorneys are looking for, so shading your answers one way or another during voir dire (if you get that far) won't work.* Just as with questions about avoiding jury service, the only real answer is to tell the truth throughout the jury duty process and hope for the best.

And good luck! Jury service is one of the most important things you can do to keep our little American experiment running strong, and for anyone -- anyone! -- interested in how humans think and behave, it is an incredibly enlightening experience. If you are lucky enough to reach the deliberation stage, even the most open-minded people will discover prejudices and stereotypes they didn't realize they had -- and then see them blown out of the water.

*Anecdote: I was recently seated on a jury despite getting into an angry shouting match with the dickish defense attorney during voir dire. (It was his first trial, and he apparently couldn't wait to do the "A Few Good Men" thing.) Nervous tittering in the gallery, edgy bailiffs, dumbfounded judge, the whole shebang. The dude still picked me for his panel. (We convicted.)
posted by turducken at 9:24 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just two weeks ago I completed service on a jury -- a first degree murder trial in DC. I had always wanted to be on a jury and was thrilled that, after having been called and rejected twice over the years, I hit the jackpot with such a great case. Doubly exciting was that I was selected as foreman (after volunteering). This isn't the place to go into it, but the experience definitely met my expectations as intellectual and civic exercise.

So you can only imagine my surprise when yesterday I received in the mail both a check for my earlier service as well as a new jury summons for next month! I was rather perplexed because I was supposed to be out of the pool for two years, but also I was excited because I had so much fun on the earlier jury that I was eager for round two.

But then I realized that one of the questions they ask in voir dire is whether you have any experience on juries, and that if I said, "I do, your honor, just last month in this very courthouse," the judge and the attorneys would want to know why I didn't behave like a normal citizen and try and get out of it.

In the end I figured this would be a (true) sign of overeagerness that would prompt at least one side to kick me off, and I decided to preempt the inevitable by calling the clerk's office and sorting out the confusion. But I hope there's still a chance I might make a grand jury in the near term...
posted by gabrielsamoza at 11:02 AM on January 29, 2010

I've heard from lawyers that they like jurors that aren't too smart. They certainly don't want jurors who are smarter than they are. They want jurors they think will be easy for them to manipulate. e.g. if you're an engineer or scientist, and there's anything remotely technical about this case, they're not going to want you.
posted by dalesd at 11:11 AM on January 29, 2010

Don't dress too well. Unless you are middle-aged or older, showing up in a suit is going to mark you out for unfavorable attention on all sides.

The lawyer for the "little guy" (defendant in a criminal action, plaintiff in a personal injury matter) will suspect you are The Man. If your job history and education supports the inference, the prosecution or corporate defense will see your be-suitednes as evidence of a lefty campaigning to be on the jury and lead it your way -- total poison to their case.
posted by MattD at 1:10 PM on January 29, 2010

the judge and the attorneys would want to know why I didn't behave like a normal citizen and try and get out of it.

I'd figure them to say, "Huh, aren't you supposed to be excused for a year now?" more than that.

Anyhoo, I've done jury duty twice in CA, and they probably went through most of the entire room during voir dire (maybe 10-20 people didn't go through the questioning by the end of it), so your odds of making it to that stage are likely to be pretty good.

Having done it twice, I pretty much do fit the qualifications that people here have mentioned. Go figure.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:47 PM on January 29, 2010

I went to a jury selection legal ed course presented by a well-known local criminal defense lawyer, who began by announcing that jury selection, at its heart, comes down to three words:
pause for dramatic effect....
hands gesturing for emphasis.....


Strong, firm, unshakable opinion = whacko.

Don't be a whacko.
posted by Jezebella at 9:07 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Update for anybody who's curious: I called in once a week for four months, but the Circuit Court didn't have a single jury trial during that time, and so, after the initial orientation, I never visited the courthouse again.

Next time I get called, I hope it's for a more action-packed court. Like Night Court.
posted by box at 6:23 AM on June 28, 2010

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