Saturday, November 21, 2009

My Jury Duty

It was over as quickly as it began. "Prospective jurors do not have to report tomorrow. Your jury service is now complete." That's the latest recorded message I received, when I called in for my jury instructions. I'm a little disappointed, since I know of several upcoming interesting trials here. They were most likely postponed or settled. It's probably for the best though. Unless you are unemployed, jury duty can be a bit intrusive to say the least.

Jury duty is the main reason I haven't been around my blog much lately. I was summoned last month as a prospective juror in the circuit court. My name was drawn by lot from the combined lists of registered voters and licensed drivers, and other public lists of people, who reside in this county. All of those so drawn constitute the group from which jurors would be selected to hear particular cases, which would be all the civil and criminal trials scheduled for the month of November in my county.

The entire group of prospective jurors (100 or more) are asked to rise and to swear or affirm to answer truthfully all questions asked of you concerning your qualifications to act as a juror in the case.

I was mailed the summons and a questionnaire with a self addressed stamped envelope that had to be returned within five days. I was also assigned a number. On the first day of jury service, the clerk would draw numbers. If your number is called, then you will be questioned. The answers to these questions enable the Court and the lawyers to decide which jurors to select.

You're supposed to be patient and cooperative. It may seem too that some of the questions are personal, but it is not intended that any question should embarrass or reflect upon a juror in any way. Each juror may be asked whether he or she has a personal interest in the outcome of the case, has preconceived opinions about it or is prejudiced in any way. The law permits each attorney to excuse a certain number of jurors without giving reasons. You should not be offended if you are excused from sitting as a juror. If there are no conflicts or objections, you are seated on the jury or as an alternate. If your number is not called, then your jury service is complete. You get paid a small amount, including mileage even for the jury selection process

The jury is to be composed of fair and impartial persons who will listen attentively and decide each case only upon the evidence and instructions of the Court. After the jury has been selected, the jurors will be asked to rise and to swear or affirm to well and truly try the matters at issue and render a true verdict according to the law and the evidence.

Your duty as a juror is to listen to the judge, witnesses and lawyers; to deliberate calmly and fairly; and to decide intelligently and justly. All of the evidence available to allow you to make a decision will be disclosed to you during the trial

I noticed from past experience that if your number is called you will most likely be on the jury or serve as an alternate. Attorneys here are so busy and tend to rush things like this through as quickly as possible. About twelve years ago I was also summoned as a prospective juror. In that instance I ended up not having to serve. I only had to report for jury service one day, but my number was not called. Back then the process took a lot longer. The court did not mail a questionnaire at that time, so a lot of the questions that could've been answered on a questionnaire were asked only after the prospective juror's number was called. It was very boring and took a long time sitting in the court room listening to people answer mundane questions and wondering if your number would be called next. It reminded me of church-- having to sit on those uncomfortable benches for such a long period of time.

When you are chosen as a juror, you become a part of the judicial process of the state. Your services as a juror are as important as those of the judge. You are obligated to perform these services honestly and conscientiously, without fear or favor. You must base your verdict on the evidence as you will hear it in court and on the law as the judge will instruct you.

It caused a little anxiety. I didn't really want anyone to know that I might possibly be on a jury. At least one first degree murder trial is due to begin soon, as well as two or more police brutality trials and a couple of malpractice suits against a local doctor and a nursing home. I guess I feared possible retaliation from anyone convicted (or their family). That may sound silly, but strange things happen in small towns.

As it turns out, my jury service just consisted of calling a phone number every Monday after 5:00 p.m. for a recorded message of specific instructions. Each time I called, I heard "prospective jurors do not have to report." And of course the last recording said, "your jury service is now complete." It was a little disappointing, but probably for the best. I already worry about enough things, so it's a relief that I don't have to worry whether or not I made the right decisions on a jury panel.

Jury Conduct During Trial:

Don’t Make An Independent Investigation
Jurors are expected to use the experience, common sense, and common knowledge they possess, but are not to rely upon private sources of information. It follows, therefore, that you should never inspect the scene of any occurrence involved in the case except under supervision of the Court.

Don’t Talk To Participants During Trial
Do not talk to any of the parties, witnesses, or the attorneys about anything. It may be what you say to a trial participant is a simple "good morning" or some remark about the weather, but your conversation may be misinterpreted by someone who may see you talking but cannot hear what is being said. To avoid misunderstandings, therefore, say nothing.

Don’t Discuss The Case During Trial
Jurors are not to discuss the case among themselves until they have heard all of the evidence, the arguments of the attorneys, and the Court’s instructions. After this you will go to the jury room to discuss the case and reach your verdict. You may, of course, converse with your fellow jurors about anything not connected with the case when the Court is not in session.

During the trial you must not discuss the case with your family, friends or others. The reason for this is plain. You must base your verdict only upon evidence. The opinions or comments that friends, relatives, or other outsiders may offer are not proper evidence in the case. So, if you are asked to discuss the case by persons outside the courtroom, you should simply say that the law does not permit you to do so. If anyone persists in discussing the case or tries to influence you in any manner, it is your legal duty to report this to the judge immediately. YOU SHOULD AVOID NEWSPAPERS OR RADIO AND TELEVISION BROADCASTS (this includes the internet--ouch--not easy for a blogger) which may feature accounts of the trial or information about someone's participation in it. These may be one-sided or incomplete and are not evidence.

After you have been released from all service as a juror you may, but are not required to, discuss the case with lawyers, investigators or other persons. It is not proper for an attorney or his or her representative to make inquiry of you until such time as you have been finally excused. If you prefer not to discuss the case, you should so state to the person inquiring.

The whole process is interesting, well at least to me it is interesting. With this being such a small town, I probably would not have wrote about any trials on my blog right away--if ever. I have watched enough Court TV to know that verdicts can be thrown out for many reasons, included a juror's conduct. I wouldn't want my blogging to keep me from being a juror or especially cause a mistrial.

If you would like to learn more about the jury process, including the stages of the trial, the judge, the conduct in the Jury Room, justice under the law, and more please refer to the Illinois Petit Juror handbook for more information than you could possibly ever need! Some of the factual information in this blog post came from that handbook. Keep in mind that all of this is strictly for Illinois courts and each state has it's own way of doing things.

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Larry Ohio said...

Excellent post, John. It reminded me of my jury duty. I think I'll write a blog entry about it soon. I'm glad you lucked out and didn't have to serve in a lengthy trial.

Kyle said...

Awesome post John! Great info to get out there. Sorry things were so lengthy and disappointing for you. The important thing is you were there, ready to serve, if you were called.

John said...

@Larry Ohio, thanks Larry, I look forward to reading about your jury experience soon!

@Kyle, Thanks both of you guys for the compliment! Yes it was drawn out the whole freakin' month not knowing from week to week! I feel sorry for the December jurors here!

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