Funerals, public speaking, tooth extraction and jury duty are events most people dread. I’m not fond of any of them and experienced each of them except jury duty…until today. Three separate counties called me for jury duty four times in my life. The previous three times, I had excuses that prevented me from serving, but the fourth time (today), I was intrigued and interested in serving.
My interest was bittersweet because I wanted to experience the justice system from a juror’s perspective, but didn’t want to miss an entire week of work because I knew no one would finish the work in my absence.
I arrived punctual and ready to make myself a desirable juror, but I didn’t realize how much chance impacted jury selection. My impression was a room full of potential jurors that attorneys whittle down to a select few (13 in this case). That’s the concept, but here’s how it really works.
Eighty of us reported for jury duty. The judge asked everyone who was unqualified or unable to serve to approach and share his story. The judge interviewed 20 of them and dismissed 15. Next the court reporter reassigned new juror numbers from 1-50 and seated us in numerical order. After seating 50 of us, he dismissed the others.
For the next 6 hours, attorneys representing the plaintiff and defendant asked us questions to identify potential conflicts of interest or bias that would taint our evaluation of the evidence. If a question pertained to us, we held up our juror card and answered the specific questions.
Here’s where the chance determines the jury. I was juror 31. I learned if jurors 1-13 exhibited no reason for exclusion, the judge would select them and dismiss the rest of us. I thought each attorney “picked” jurors he wanted on the jury, but the attorney can only strike a certain number of jurors he perceives may not be fair and impartial. Anyway, after 7-1/2 hours, they selected 13 jurors (12 jurors and one alternate). The last juror they selected was #29 which means if any legal team struck one less juror, I could have been one of the jurors!
I was disappointed I didn’t make it because I was intrigued with how the system works. Movies like 12 Angry Men and high profile criminal cases like the OJ Simpson trial and Casey Anthony trial made me wonder how jury dynamics decide which side wins. Since I only get called once every 3 years, my next chance is 2015. Maybe I should watch 12 Angry Men again to satisfy my curiosity.