Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Jury Duty and How NOT To Get Picked

by Kelly Siegler

How do you feel when you get that familiar jury summons to appear in court on some future date? Excited? Nervous?

Maybe you're one of those people who simply toss it into the trash?

If you are one of those people, why are you avoiding jury duty? Because you think you have too much going on that day or because it will cost you money if you show up rather than go to work? Or maybe because that is a civic responsibility "for other people"?

Ever thought about what would happen in our criminal justice system if every responsible citizen thought they were too busy or too "important" to report for jury duty?

The system would utterly collapse; that's what would happen. Can you imagine what our juries would be like if they were totally made up of citizens who wanted to be on a jury?

When someone who resides in
Harris County and who is either a registered voter OR has a Texas driver's license gets summoned for jury duty, the procedure they are required to follow is pretty typical. They are encouraged to visit a Web site where they can read all about what exemptions they can legally use or what might truly disqualify them or how to reset their jury duty if their designated date is not convenient for them.

As a lawyer with enough experience picking juries or should I say, "trying to pretend like I knew what the heck I was doing when I picked juries," let me give you a clue. . . .

There is a really easy way to get out of being picked for a jury by either side's lawyers.

It's called answering the questions. Answering every question. In minute detail. Ad nauseum. Until everyone gets tired of hearing the sound of your voice.

Because the more you talk, the more you increase the odds of being struck by one side or the other, if not both. Remember jury "selection" is not really that at all; no individual juror is selected at all.

In reality, the six or twelve people lucky enough to make the final jury are really "what's left" when all of each side's strikes are gone and their juror numbers happen to be low enough in the panel to make it on the jury.

Why do I say talk and answer the lawyer's questions A LOT? Because a good many years ago when I was a new prosecutor in felony district court and on a day when I was charged with the responsibility of picking a jury in a routine no-big-deal possession of
crack cocaine case, I made the big mistake of NOT listening to a lady called down for jury duty.

I selected (which really means that I did not exercise a strike on) a very verbose, very opiniona
ted, but very state's oriented lady on the panel because I was so busy focusing on her answers that I did not listen. Had I listened I would have appreciated that she was SO opinionated and SO strong and SO disagreeable that eleven other people would never be able to stand being in the same small room with her long enough to come to two (guilt AND punishment) independent verdicts!!

But I was young, and can we say naive? The very experienced and wise judge who presided over that trial called it in a heart beat and asked me what I was thinking as soon as all twelve jurors were seated in the jury box. I responded that she gave all "state's oriented" answers to all of the questions put to her. And he sagely replied, "Maybe so, but they will be ready to strangle her before they're done."

And he was right.

Since that day and that trial, which I pretty quickly lost, I have given a name to jurors like that lady with personality traits like hers. I call it the "bow-up" factor.

Bow [Bo] up.

You know. People who "bow up" over any little thing, who are always getting worked up over things that most others would consider petty or insignificant. People who enjoy arguing. Who like to be contrary and difficult.

We all know people like that. If you're one of those kind of people, just let your true colors shine through if you get called down for jury duty. You ought to be safe.

If you aren't one of those people and you want to
get OFF of jury duty, then the first step is to keep on talking.

11 comments:

A Voice of Sanity said...

The system would utterly collapse; that's what would happen. Can you imagine what our juries would be like if they were totally made up of citizens who wanted to be on a jury?

Like the Scott Peterson jury?

Jan C, said...

Scott Peterson got the jury he deserved.

Reading a jury must be one of the more stressful parts of the trial. A mistake can doom the case for either side.

Anonymous said...

Amen Jan. MC AKA A Voice of Sanity has been defending SP for years - there isn't a murder that she won't embrace.

The jury system is made up of human beings. They all have certain biases and have gone through different life experiences that compell them to feel a certain way - right or wrong. Juries don't always make the right decision because they don't always get the entire truth. It's really kind of sad in a lot of cases.

A Voice of Sanity said...

"She"? Honey, if you ever met me you'd know I'm not a woman and I have no time or respect for murderers. However I also don't let idiots tell me what to think - I let the evidence do that (apparently you let your TV tell YOU what to think - wearing that aluminum beanie won't help you).

Even the judge admitted Peterson couldn't find an honest jury in the state of California - and his jury was so prejudiced they didn't even bother to try to hide it.

Anon said...

The defendant is entitled to "a jury of his peers". It doesn't state anywhyere in the constitution that they have to be honest. And the fact of the matter is that every individual is prejudiced by their life experiences at the very least. Otherwise, we'd all be Stepford's.

That said, aren't you going out on a limb just a little to presume such about individuals you don't even know??

So, how are you related to SP??

A Voice of Sanity said...

The defendant is entitled to "a jury of his peers".
Wrong. That is nowhere in the law.
It doesn't state anywhyere in the constitution that they have to be honest.
It is in the jury instructions.
And the fact of the matter is that every individual is prejudiced by their life experiences at the very least.
And they are required by the oath they take to set prejudice aside.
Otherwise, we'd all be Stepford's.
Not me.
That said, aren't you going out on a limb just a little to presume such about individuals you don't even know??
I have a functioning brain.
So, how are you related to SP??
Don't know him, never met him, never communicated with him. And that applies to every member of his family.

So now you tell me, why is it that you hate Americans without any reason?

Levi said...

Someone has a crush on Scott Peterson...

Analyst said...

Maybe you do. I'm straight so I can't tell.

Anonymous said...

I district attorney I knew told me he always tried to kick off anyone wearing a bow tie.

When I asked why, he said they were all wacko.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Kelly! I agree with you. If I had a nickle for every time I have heard someone talk about jurors being "too stupid to get out of jury duty".. I'd be a billionaire.

By the way, thanks for getting David Temple! It took almost 10 years, but you got him.. So thank you from Katy, Texas!

We miss you in Harris County - which you'd come back as an ADA... our county lost out big when you resigned..

Take care! - Julie in Katy, Texas (the portion that is Harris County :D )...

Anonymous said...

I meant, "wish".. I wish you're come back as an ADA in Harris County.. sorry I didn't spell-check before I posted.

Take care!