I have to think that jury duty in America used to be different. I have to think that in the past, most people who had jury duty were actually on a jury.
Of course, those people were all white men, but anyway...
In previous posts I've explained how bad jury service has been for me in the past, and how I'm not sure the defendants are getting a fair deal and jurors leave thinking that they did the wrong thing because they had little choice in the matter.
Now I will talk about more a more average jury duty experience for me, probably what happens with most people in general, and what I expect to happen to me on Monday. Basically, a whole day will be wasted doing nothing, and like 80% won't be on jury at all.
First of all, I have to go to downtown Dallas. I hate Dallas. There are a couple of different places I could have been called for jury duty, and the last place I had to go wasn't so bad. For me, there is a part on the map that might as well say past "here be dragons" and I totally panic if I have to go there without someone I trust driving me. That's is the plan for Monday, someone will drive me, so that will be okay. If they had sent me to the other building, I still wouldn't like it, it's still Dallas and it still makes me nervous, but I could have managed to drive there myself if I had to. But that's what happens if you live near a big city, you probably have jury duty in the downtown area of that big city, and you have to deal with possibly unfamiliar places and one way streets and traffic and finding parking. And if you work downtown and this is not a big deal to you and you do not get lost and such, you'll have to wait around a while for those of us who did get lost and such.
There is a lot of waiting and such. Hurry up and wait. Once you've found the building and dealt with the parking and waited in line to go through metal detectors and all that, you finally end up in a big room with a judge and bailiffs and such. And if you've already filled out the forms and gone online and done that and you don't need to see the judge about an excuse, you wait for a bunch of people who didn't fill out forms or go online or think that they should talk to the judge about their excuse. And then, you are sworn in. And, in case you missed it the first time, you can be sworn in every hour or half-hour or so after that. The judge is going to do that all day, and since not all trials start on Monday, he or someone else will probably be doing that also the next day and possibly the whole week. Yes, we really need him to do this in the morning, but after that it seems like babysitting. A judge isn't being a judge, cause he is being part of a whole big team of babysitters for new jurors.
But I have filled out my forms and such, so maybe I won't be in this room too long. Someone will call my name and either tell me where to go or give me more forms to fill out. Once in a while, at this point they tell you to go home and come back tomorrow. But more likely you go somewhere with a hundred or so other people and fill out more forms, or maybe be told to memorize a number. You are a number now. The number is important, because after being a number, you will then be a seat assignment. It's very important that you sit in a particular seat, and that you always sit in this particular seat. And then they will start to ask you if you know anyone in the court and if you're involved in another lawsuit and if you know anyone in jail. If you aren't sitting in the right seat, they will ask you the wrong questions.
At some point some of us have to go talk to the judge and explain why we wouldn't be good jurors. Cause we didn't want to announce to the whole room that we don't feel well and have to go to the bathroom every half hour. Or because we are afraid of driving in Dallas and don't have a ride on Tuesday. Or because we are supposed to go out of town on Thursday and the trial might still be going on Friday.
At some point we get to go to lunch. We are told to remember where we are sitting, because when we come back we will have to sit in that same seat again.
After lunch, more questions. They try to talk a little bit about the case, without actually talking about the case. And they ask you more questions, and sometimes you ask questions. And sometimes it gets to be nearly five, and they're not finished yet.
Now, if they are nearly finished, they will keep you another two hours or so and get finished so that most of you don't have to come back the next day. But if they aren't nearly finished, they send everybody home til the next day, and remind you to remember where you were sitting, cause you have to sit in that same seat again.
But, good news if you have to come back the second day. In Dallas, the second day they will have to pay you thirty dollars more than they did the first day. But, they probably really don't want to pay the extra thirty dollars, so I might be there past seven or even eight.
At some point they will call some names. In a criminal case they need twelve jurors and at least two alternates. The rest of us can go home.
So usually, there is a whole day that goes just picking those few people who are actually going to be on the jury. The trial itself probably won't start til the next day.
Past this point, I have no personal experience, but there must be more time spent on giving people instructions, because it is like their first day at a new job.
Now, everybody has had a first day on a new job where they didn't really get anything useful done. But this is every week (probably several days each week) where there is a whole new group of people. And they aren't going to need 80% of us anyway.
I wish they would find some way of making this more like a regular job and pay people a reasonable amount of money to do it. Then that first judge could actually go and be a judge instead of a babysitter, and the other bailiffs could go work somewhere else in the building instead of escorting lost new people to the bathroom, and I'm sure that there are a lot of behind the scenes people who could be doing something better instead of helping to sort through people who might be on a jury.
Even if they figure out something better, there will still always be a few new people and problems and delays, but they way it is now it is nothing but new people and problems and delays. At the end of the day, the majority of us went through all this and leave feeling that nothing was accomplished.