Help me be a bettor juror than Pauly Shore
October 18, 2006 10:06 PM   Subscribe

I just recieved a summons to appear for jury duty in Williamson County, TX, at the end of this month. I've read a lot of the first page of google results for "jury duty", but I am hoping that my favorite (ask)mefites can give me a more personal view of their experiences with jury duty.

What attire/behavior will be expected of me? What can I expect when I show up at the courthouse? What types of cases are generally presented in county court? If you have them, feel free to share any good/bad/crazy stories.
posted by negative1 to Law & Government (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
bring a book, expect a lot of waiting. have ones and change for the vending machines
posted by Iron Rat at 10:14 PM on October 18, 2006

I dressed relatively nicely; it's not like it's a job interview or anything, but it's probably a good idea to avoid the "PANTERA" t-shirt. When I got to the courthouse, I sat in a big room full of chairs for three hours with most of the other jurors. Eventually, I was brought in with a large group to sit for preliminary jury selection on a multiple homicide trial. I didn't get selected to be on the jury, so I went back to the room, sat for another couple of hours, and went home.

Overall, it was a non-experience. I think that is likely to be the case for you as well. Bring something to read, or make sure batteries are fully charged on whatever sort of iPod or Game Boy device you choose to have with you on this magical trip into Losing The Better Part Of A Day.
posted by jenovus at 10:18 PM on October 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

Bring something to read. MP3 players, handholds, or laptops are also nice, but be careful -- if they can record sound, you may not be allowed to bring them in.
posted by orthogonality at 10:25 PM on October 18, 2006

Two second-hand tidbits:
My mom was part of the jury for a capital murder case. It took a couple of weeks and a lot fo gruesome testimony. They found the guy guilty. (!) That's pretty much the limiting case of what you might be asked to do. I don't have details from her about it, really. She mentioned that everyone on the jury took it very seriously, even though not all of them were the brightest bulbs.

I have also been told that colleagues of mine (philosophy professors) have been dismissed by lawyers in the jury-formation phase. So if you teach logic for a living, for example, you might get dismissed.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:26 PM on October 18, 2006

If you want to get out of it, when they call you up you should say `This is gonna be awesome, I can tell a guilty person just by looking at them!'.
posted by tomble at 11:27 PM on October 18, 2006

I always wanted to get an "I'm blogging this." t-shirt for jury duty, though I would have an alternative, plain shirt in case someone who mattered cared.
posted by krisjohn at 11:46 PM on October 18, 2006

I got called once, along with 50 or 60 other people, for a child molestation case. We waited in various rooms for a number of hours, and then they brought us into the courtroom and started calling people to the jury box. The attorneys then questioned those in the box. If a particular person in the box got dismissed, then another got selected from the pool. The juror selection process took so long, that we had to come back on the following day, at which point the judge said that the trial would be postponed and that we were all dismissed.

Let me just add a note about the people who got dismissed from the jury. In my particular experience that happened only in two cases: 1) the person could not be present during the trial without incurring some significant hardship (e.g., one girl was going to be out of the country during the time in question and had already spent thousands of dollars on tickets), and 2) the person was (or behaved like) a complete lunatic (e.g., one guy kept insisting over and over that despite all instructions to the contrary, there was absolutely no way that he could possibly believe the testimony of a minor).

But, yeah, don't worry – you’ll be told everything you need to know when you get there. The judge will probably give you detailed instructions about precisely what is expected of you. Also, be ready to give up a day (and possibly a couple of weeks) of your life, and bring something to entertain yourself with while you wait.
posted by epimorph at 11:49 PM on October 18, 2006

What attire/behavior will be expected of me?

Shirt and shoes. If you've got some class, dress-casual or above. But I've seen plenty of jurors — and defendants, for that matter — wearing ripped jeans, inappropriate T-shirts, you name it. It's not like you'll be rebuked.

What can I expect when I show up at the courthouse?

To wait and eventually be dismissed without ever seeing the inside of a courtroom.

What types of cases are generally presented in county court?

All kinds, from petty theft to vandalism to capital murder — and that's just criminal court.

I am hoping that...(ask)mefites can give me a more personal view of their experiences with jury duty.

I've reported to jury duty 3 times. The first time, I was dismissed before noon. The second time, I was dismissed around 4 o'clock. The third time, I served on a jury for an assault case that resulted in a mistrial. You want a view on jury duty? Then consider that, in a world where a billionaire can purchase a trip on a space shuttle, serving on a jury is one of the few experiences left that money can't buy.
posted by cribcage at 11:57 PM on October 18, 2006

I was on a felony murder (in this case, robbery and/or kidnapping for ransom that led to a death - it was a drug deal that went bad) trial earlier this year, at the LA County Airport Courthouse. The trial, including jury selection, lasted exactly the ten days that my company pays for, so that worked out pretty well for me.

You don't need to get too dressed up - long pants and a polo shirt is fine for men. Security will be about the same as at the airport. Bring books and magazines and iPod and GameBoys and whatever else will keep you occupied during the many many downtimes.

I found my service to be a very positive experience - the judge was easy-going and reminded me of a low-key Steve Carell, and the prosection and defense attorneys both clearly respected each other and the law. And, by the end, I really felt like I had contributed something back to society (corny, yes, but true.)
posted by Guy Smiley at 12:15 AM on October 19, 2006

I've been called twice (for district and federal court) but never picked for a jury. One huge bummer was that we could not bring cell phones, PDAs or laptops in to the waiting area. Not sure about iPods or game devices, but err on the low-tech side and bring books just in case.

Also, in the district court waiting area, they had a "quiet room" where the TV was not blasting all day and where there were tables instead of just chairs (the non-quiet room resembled a bus terminal in many ways). If yours has one, try to score a seat early in the day.

The most fun part was during the interviews - trying to guess whether the person would be selected or dismissed based on their answers.

Most people who tried to play the "I'm so busy/my job is so important, I can't serve on a jury" were picked anyway, unless they had significant family/medical issues.

And I'd agree with Guy Smiley that there is something truly satisfying about about participating in the process.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 2:51 AM on October 19, 2006

I sat around for ages, then was told to go home without ever seeing anything but the waiting room. Expect to have your time wasted. Oh, and expect your work to be annoyed that you need the time off!
posted by Lucie at 3:23 AM on October 19, 2006

I was called three times, and served once. As everyone says, it's mostly about boredom. Even the one trial where I was picked for the jury was called off. Seems like the defendant didn't like our looks, and copped a plea. One other time, a herd of us showed up at the courthouse at the appointed time, to find it locked. An hour later, a clerk showed up and told us all to go home, because there were no trials that day, and no judges were coming in.

I have heard of judges who berated members of the jury pool for not meeting their expectations for dress, but I haven't seen it.

The lawyers get to reject a couple of jurors without giving a reason. If you want to serve, don't give a law-'n-order impression, but don't wear your gangsta outfit, either.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:28 AM on October 19, 2006

Just wear clean clothes and bring something to read.

As an aside, I will say that the one time I actually served on a jury, years ago, the experience actually did much to restore my faith in the judicial system. While the debates in the jury room over the case we heard were hardly as intense as "Twelve Angry Men," the fact that a dozen different citizens of different ages, races and backgrounds were all sitting around a table striving to Do The Right Thing and come to agreement about what the Right Thing was, was actually pretty inspiring.

OK, maybe I'm a sap, but it was.
posted by enrevanche at 4:38 AM on October 19, 2006

I was chosen to sit on the jury for a personal injury case. Small beans, I know, but it was still a good experience to be a part of the system. The dynamics of the jury was somewhat interesting.
I'd definitely do it again.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:36 AM on October 19, 2006

Bring a book. And I would suggest bringing some food, too. A quick board game would have come in handy, too... something easy and fast, like Jenga.

I had to serve just last week (Denton County, Tx, district court). Trial lasted two days, but should have gone for three. Rather than keep us a third day, the judge decided to run late. We were up there, without dinner, until 12:30 AM.

Other than that, I basically agree with enrevanche.
posted by kaseijin at 5:39 AM on October 19, 2006

Regionally appropriate: I was called as a juror here in Galveston County, TX a few months ago. I'd previously served in San Diego and Vista, CA and in DC. The general process is much the same, and goes along with what other posters have described. Lots of waiting. Take something to read.

Some variations:

Here, there is a week-long process where you call in at night to determine if you are called for service the next day. In CA, it was "one day or one trial".

Here, there were specific instructions about "appropriate clothing" (i.e., no shorts, bare midriffs, what-have-you). That's probably a local variation for the beach town where I live, and might not apply to you north of Austin.

Here, there was no TV in the waiting room, but the process was relatively quick. A judge came in and told us how the court system works and what to expect. In San Diego, there was a TV (bad talk shows!) in the waiting room. At some point, the program stopped and they put on a videotape explaining how the court system works.

As for "what types of cases," it really depends on a few things... Here in Galveston, you don't know if you will be called for a civil or criminal trial until you are actually called. It might range from anything as trivial as a shoplifting case up to an assault or a large civil trial (think BP & Texas City) or a sensational murder trial (think Durst). All of these were in the Galveston County courts. Other places arranged the system differently, and you know in advance whether it is civil or criminal, for example. It depends on the court system and (in Texas, I think) on how the county decides to mange the jury system.
posted by Robert Angelo at 5:39 AM on October 19, 2006

Oh, and for a split second, I thought about getting out of serving by proclaiming during the interview process that, "lawyers will be next after the CEO's when the glorious revolution comes."

...but I didn't want to wind up on any no-fly lists.
posted by kaseijin at 5:42 AM on October 19, 2006

Both my husband and I have been called for juriy duty. In both cases, the lawyers asked if any potential juror had experienced or had a family member experience a crime similar to the case at hand. We both, unfortunately, did answer yes to that question. We were given the opportunity to either outline the case publicly or in a sidebar with just the judge and two lawyers. After that, we were asked if we could remain unbiased if we were selected for jury duty. (I think this question is a formality because it was pretty obvious we were not wanted by the defendant's lawyer.) When the jury was selected, we were not on it.

My experience was four years ago. My husband's was last month. They were in two different jurisdictions. I received another jury duty survey last month. I wouldn't be surprised if I get called again soon.
posted by onhazier at 5:56 AM on October 19, 2006

I've been called and dismissed three or four times, and served on two juries. The first trial was a two-week Federal mail fraud and money laundering case (faking car accidents and making false insurance claims) and the second one was a three-week murder trial in San Francisco.

Serving on a jury can sometimes be boring day-to-day, but I thought the overall process was facinating and was an extremely interesting experience. There are two challenging aspects: First, you can't base your decisions on emotion, but you have the emotions anyway, and you can't talk about the case with anyone during the trial. I was emotionally drained at the end of the murder trial especially. Second, you really want to hear the whole story of what happened, and you don't get to. Both sides only tell you the parts of the story that support their version of what happened.

Most of the people on the first jury were immediately convincied the guy was guilty and had a let's-get-it-over-with attitude, but one guy needed more than "he's guilty, duh," and wanted to walk though each count of the indictment point-by-point. Since the other jurors were fed up, he and I talked for almost two days before he was persuaded. (I wasn't so much trying to change his mind as I was explaining how the counts related to each other.) The second jury took things more seriously, probably because the case was more serious.

Spending time with other jurors is a little strange because you're not supposed to talk about the only thing you have in common.

I had jury duty last week, and I was the first person they called up for jury selection. They ended up settling the case before the trial started, but I was kind of bummed because I was Juror No. 1.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:17 AM on October 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

there is something truly satisfying about about participating in the process

I agree. I've been on two juries, and it was very satisfying, making up for the inconvenience. But being an alternate, as 23skidoo says, sucks.
posted by languagehat at 7:20 AM on October 19, 2006

I've been called a couple times but not served. Both in TX.

What to wear: better than jeans, better than a t-shirt. Really all you'd want to actually avoid are t-shirts with vulgar messages on them, I suspect.

What to expect:

(1) A sign on the door saying to go home.
(2) Go into a big room with hundreds of other people. Get assigned to a case. Before you leave the room, get told that the lawyers have just worked out a settlement.

What kinds of cases: all kinds, from boring probate issues to capital murder.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:24 AM on October 19, 2006

If you are told to turn off your cell phone, do so. Don't assume it's off -- check to make sure. I was in a jury pool once where a judge instructed everyone to turn off their phones. She then told us to check the phones to make sure they were turned off. When a cell phone rang a few minutes later, the owner was charged with contempt and hauled away by a bailiff.
posted by forrest at 12:23 PM on October 19, 2006

What I didn't get was why everyone was so against it (doing jury duty). Everyone made it seem like this horrible thing, but I found it very interesting and educational as I'd never had a brush with the legal system.
I was chosen and served for three days on a medical malpractice case and didn't really mind it at all. Plus I got paid (not a lot) but it was something.
(FWIW, We found the Dr. not guilty.)

Oh and all the "bring a book, bring something to do" advice is very true.
posted by NoraCharles at 3:28 PM on October 19, 2006

Response by poster: This discussion seems to have reached its end, but in case anyone is still checking...I haven't marked any favorites yet. I don't think I am going to, because individual experiences have varied so widely. Everyone has given some great advice and there have been some darn fine stories here, and I appreciate every post. I'll post here again in early November, when I am/(am not) actually selected for a jury.

I sincerely hope that I am. Voting in elections is very important to me, and I don't even make a difference since I'm in Texas. Being able to influence the outcome of a trial would be infinitely more meaningful/democratic to me.
posted by negative1 at 8:34 PM on October 20, 2006

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