This week I was able to, for the first time, respond to a summons for jury duty! (I was summoned once before, but by a county in which I no longer lived, so I was ineligible.) As you can imagine, I was more than thrilled. It was two of the most interesting days of my life. I seriously cannot wait to get summoned again.
In case you are unfamiliar with the wonder that is the jury selection process, let me give you an itsy-bitsy overview (of how it goes in Orange County, at least). First, you get a summon in the mail. On the day appointed, you go to the courthouse. You enter a large room with about 800-1000 other people. Then, if your day is anything like mine, two things happen. One, the clerk comes out and says she has been asked to prescreen jurors for a case that will last 14 days. Anyone that will not experience economic hardship if they serve for 14 days is ordered to line up at the counter. When the quota for that case is met, the remaining people sit back down among the rest of us.
Then, two, the clerk comes out again and informs us that it is time for random selection to begin. They have inputted the present potential jurors into the computer, and it has generated a list of random names based on that information. She announces that the following people need to go to Court Number (number given). She reads a bunch of names. Then she says another court number and reads more names. Then, again, another court and more names. I was picked on the third court, so I’m not sure how many more courts were assigned after that.
You and your fellow chosen go to the court assigned and wait outside. The bailiff greets you and assigns you a number. From that point on, you are referred to by that number alone. I was Juror number 143. Then 21 numbers are chosen at random to sit in the jury box. The whole group is ushered into the courtroom, where the judge, lawyers, and defendant are seated. The chosen 21 take their seats in the box, and the rest of you sit in the audience. (I wasn’t one of the 21, so I was seated in the audience. But those of us in the audience were instructed to listen and consider carefully, as we might be called upon later.)
Those 21 jurors get questioned quite thoroughly. Then the judge and lawyers leave the room to discuss. “To talk about you behind your back,” as our judge put it. When they return, the lawyers “respectfully thank and excuse” various jurors. Now the box is down to about 14 jurors. More random numbers are called; those called fill the seats, and the process begins again. In the end, when both counsels are pleased with the panel, the rest of the room (the unchosen jurors) are let go.
The kinds of questions that the judge and lawyers asked were absolutely fascinating to me. Things like:
- Are you more inclined to believe the defendant is guilty because he has been convicted of these same charges before?
- Are you more inclined to believe that the defendant is guilty because he is here wearing the orange jumpsuit?
- If the police are called as witnesses, and they give testimony that directly contradicts the testimony of other witnesses, are you more likely to believe them simply because they are police officers?
- If the DA has only one witness, and the defense has 5, are you more likely to believe the 5 simply because there are more of them?
- Are you able to weigh the testimony of a disabled witness equally as you would that of one who is not disabled?
- Can you use common sense to evaluate circumstantial evidence and yet not base your judgment solely on circumstantial evidence?
I wasn’t ultimately chosen to sit on the jury; I didn’t even make it into the box. But the day was still super interesting and enlightening. People warned me that I might be bored, but I was literally sitting on the edge of my seat the whole time, like the total nerd that I am.