Jury Duty

Jul 16, 2009

So, I spent yesterday (and Monday too, actually) at jury duty. Yesterday was voir dire, which wasn't much fun.

I've been on the opposite side of the rail for voir dire, many years ago, assisting a defense attorney as we scrutinized the answers of twenty unsuspecting citizens. Being one of those citizens was . . . unsettling.

Because, I know what goes through the minds of those interviewing the prospective jurors. It's not really jury selection at all; it's a process of eliminating jury candidates who you think might not agree with your prosecution or defense.

So, should you find yourself impanelled and participating in voir dire, here are a few tips:

  • Be vocal. Answer the questions, give details and examples and your honest opinion. Neither the prosecution nor the defense wants to select someone with strong opinions who would question their evidence, witnesses, and arguments.

  • Admit your biases. Everyone is biased, in varying degrees. This is one of those times when you want to be honest with yourself, the counselors, and the judge. If you can't put aside closely held beliefs, say so. You do a disservice to the defendant not to be honest here.

  • Tell stories. Each attorney will have time to gently interrogate the jury pool. They'll ask general questions about your experiences and those of family and close friends. If those questions apply to you, speak up. Tell them what happened, and let them know if those experiences color your judgement.

  • Answer yes or no. Maybe doesn't count in a court of law. Both counselors will ask hypothetical questions. Imagine the situation and answer honestly. Either you can or cannot do something, there is no try. And if you say you'll try or hope you can or offer any other vague statement, the judge will insist you pick a side.

  • Ask questions. But be careful here. You can ask questions about the definitions of legal terms, the requirements of the prosecution or defense, or about the process. You cannot ask specifics about the case, individuals involved, or evidence to be presented.

The upshot to all this: if you are a vocal individual with strong opinions and biases, who asks a lot of questions and refuses to answer the hypothetical in a satisfactory way, you'll likely NOT be picked for the jury. On the other hand, if you are mild, unbiased, provide short one-word answers, and are generally agreeable, you chances for the jury box increase significantly.

And if you sound like the crazy lady who thinks all crimes should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, that the police are generally right, that almost everyone lies to the cops, and that you cannot be fair based upon a past experience . . . you'll be the first person on the list who both sides want to eliminate. And that's why I'm at work today and not suffering through a trial.

0 Response to "Jury Duty"