Jury Duty (part 1)

Last week my blog posts were a bit more erratic than normal, and the reason is that I had to appear for jury duty at the St. Louis courthouse.

I’ve heard from many people who have never been called for jury duty, but I’ve lived in St. Louis for 20 years, and I’ve been called at least 6 or 7 times. Every previous experience was a slightly different variation on going to the courthouse, sitting around until my number is or isn’t called, then going through the selection process and ultimately not being selected.

While it’s my civic duty, like many people who go through this process, I’d rather be working, so I was dreading the responsibility. However, I wanted to answer the questions honestly, and while I probably could have exaggerated a few answers to avoid being selected, it didn’t feel right, especially with some other people going above and beyond to not get selected. My favorite was someone who said they couldn’t be fair and impartial because they were a health care worker and the defendant was a health care worker…and then she learned that the plaintiff was also a health care worker.

On Monday afternoon, I was selected for a civic trial involving a car accident. I was on the jury, but I was one of two alternates (along with 12 other jury members who would go through the actual deliberation process). I spent my next three days in trial, listening and carefully taking notes, and then on Thursday afternoon I was sent home while the 12 jurors made their decision. We weren’t allowed to discuss the case with each other or anyone else during the process.

I have a few posts to write about this week (including specifics of the case, which I’m allowed to discuss now), but today I just wanted to share a few overall observations:

  • Overall, the trial was quite interesting. What at first seemed as a cut-and-dry case turned out to have a lot more nuance to it. I’d guess that many cases are like this–otherwise they wouldn’t get this far in the process.
  • I was impressed that both lawyers tried to get along with each other. They spoke of their desire to be civil, and there weren’t many angry objections. There was some drama, but I appreciated the attempt at civility.
  • I wouldn’t know it from watching TV shows about lawyers and courtrooms, but there were a LOT of quiet conferences between the judge and the attorneys. I’d say there were at least 5 a day, adding up to a total of 30-45 minutes spent whispering with each other–we couldn’t hear what they were saying.
  • There were two court stenographers, one taking notes on a truncated keyboard, the other using a new dictation machine involve voice-to-text. It was fun to watch them.
  • The jury spent almost just as much time in the jury room as in the courtroom itself. There was a day when we showed up at 9:30 but didn’t start until 11:30, and then we broke for lunch an hour later (for a full hour). There was a day when we took a lunch break but lunch didn’t show up until an our later, so it was nearly a 90-minute break. The judge and lawyers expressed an appreciation for our time, but by far my biggest wish was for more efficiency and punctuality.
  • Last, it was fascinating to see the different approaches taken by the lawyers. They are very much salesmen, intent on selling their story to the jury through witnesses, depositions, and closing arguments. They were actually teams of lawyers, with the lead lawyers being the most personable and the others playing supportive roles.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about the case itself and the results, as I’m curious how you would have ruled. Because I was an alternate, I didn’t get to deliberate despite going through the entire process (by the end of which I had pretty strong opinions about the results).

Have you ever served on jury duty? What was the most memorable or surprising aspect about it for you?

4 thoughts on “Jury Duty (part 1)”

  1. Jamey,

    Prior time my position with the Department of Justice (about 20 years), I was called for Jury Duty exactly twice…once in PA and once in VA. Now, since joining DoJ, I have never been called though I have taken the stand, providing testimony in a Terrorism case.

    Cheers,
    Joe

    Reply
  2. It’s interesting reading your experiences. Around here, we know the legal system in the US a bit, but it’s quite different than ours. Here, a people’s jury is stricly used in assize trials (murder trials). For every other court case, only professional people decide on guilt and innocence in a trial. Because of this (and because the number of murders luckily isn’t very high), chances of being summoned to a people’s jury are very low here. I assume I will never sit on a people’s jury. I do not long for it, but if I were ever to be called, I am not going to try to avoid my civic duty.

    Reply
  3. That is interesting! I’m sure there are quite a few types of trials in the US that aren’t heard by a jury, but we must draw the line in a different place than you do.

    Reply

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