Jury Duty

So, as I said in this morning’s alert message, I was summoned for jury duty. For those of you unfamiliar with the way the process works in the US (or at least the way it works in the county I live in; other places may differ to some extent), it works like this:

Contra Costa County in California, like many places, uses a method called “One Day or One Trial”. That means that you are required to either serve for one day if you are not chosen for a trial, or for a single trial if you are chosen. If there are no trials scheduled for the day you will be serving, you do not need to appear at all. Regardless, once you have served, you will not have to serve again for at least a year.

Names are selected by computer at random from various public lists, including driver’s licenses and voter registration. You receive a form in the mail letting you know that you have been chosen for jury duty on a particular date a few weeks away. The form instructs you to call the evening before to find out if you will need to appear.

If you need to appear, you go to the courthouse and wait with the rest of the prospective jurors. The number of candidates depends on the number of trials that may begin that day. Once you are all assembled, you get a basic orientation that stresses the honor of serving, informs you of how much you will be paid if you serve on a jury ($15 plus 34 cents/mile – clearly you’re not going to get rich serving), and warns you not to leave the room without signing out. Prospective jurors are sent to the courtrooms in groups, and if you’re not present when you’re assigned to a group, you can be fined or arrested – which makes me wonder if anyone has ever wound up in the jury pool for their own trial for being absent.

Once in the courtroom, the judge gives some general information about the particular trial, including the estimated dates during which it will occur and whether it is a civil or criminal trial. Prospective jurors are then given an opportunity to request a postponement of their service if the specific dates will create a significant hardship. Those who do not get a postponement are then considered to be in the jury pool, and the selection of the actual jurors for the trial will be made from that group.

The first three times I was selected, I was told that I did not need to appear. This time, however, I was required to appear, and I found it quite interesting.

Tourist brochuresUnexplained quiltApparently, the city of Martinez where the County Court is located wants to be sure you enjoy your visit. I wouldn’t have expected tourist brochures and restaurant fliers in the juror waiting room, but sure enough, there they were. They’ve also slightly decorated the room. This quilt was hanging on one wall with no explanation of its origin or purpose. Most peculiar. Further research is indicated. They also provide soda machines ($1 for cans, $1.50 for bottles), a few board games and jigsaw puzzles, and free wifi.

The doors opened at 8 and the prospective jurors were directed to a line outside the waiting room; they began processing us at 8:30. On entry, I had to fill out a survey to be used by the judges and lawyers in making a preliminary decision about my suitability as a juror. There were roughly 150 of us, and it took about half an hour for everyone to fill out the survey and settle down. We then got the orientation and waited to be called. A first group of approximately 50 people were called around 10:30. A second group was called about 15 minutes later. I was in the second group.

We gathered in the hall outside the waiting room and the bailiff warned us that texting and using cell phones was forbidden in the courtroom, so we should silence our phones or turn them off. (Apparently, there are a lot of people who don’t believe rules apply to them: when someone’s phone rang in the courtroom, the judge ordered her to turn it off and warned us that any further ringing phones would be confiscated. At least half of the people in the room turned their phones off at that point.)

The judge told us that the trial was a criminal one and gave us the expected dates, and then spent the next hour listening to the requests for postponements. More than half of our group made requests, most of which were granted.

After a break for lunch, those of us who were left were read a list of the people who might be called as witnesses during the trial, and we were asked if we thought we knew any of them. Three people thought they might; the judge then explained that during the selection process, they would be asked for more information. He then gave more information about the case: he summarized the charges, introduced the lawyers and the defendant.

You’ll note that I haven’t said anything about the actual case. The judge read us a brief speech warning us against talking to the lawyers, witnesses, or defendant; doing any research about the case; or telling anyone about the case.

A final reminder to return tomorrow and a final warning to allow plenty of travel time, and we were free to go.

So that’s where it stands. I’m in the selection pool; I’ll report anything else of possible interest that doesn’t violate the rules.

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