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Trials and Tribulations

A recap of my recent (and previous) jury duty adventures appears in The Morning News today.

Posted on February 14, 2005 to Elsewhere


A friend of mine in San Francisco recently reported for jury duty, and he actually got seated on a jury. When the juror seated next to him was questioned, the guy said he should be excused because he was a drug dealer, and also he was responsible for a hit-and-run a few years back -- but he hadn't been caught for it. The judge excused him.

Posted by: CM Evans on February 14, 2005 11:29 AM

Should a new father be eating hot food out of a stranger's van? Maybe you're being fattened up. Just don't go back there or the next thing you hear might be, "it puts the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again."

Posted by: will on February 14, 2005 1:13 PM

Unless you've got a Mexican aunt, tamales are best straight from some guy on the side of the street.... keep right on eatin'.

Posted by: Chad (Dallas) on February 14, 2005 1:41 PM

Hee hee hee hee hee - Raymond Burr. That's an amazing video. The fact that it's a message from beyond the grave is only one way in which it dates itself. The Kingdome shows up in a montage of Washington scenery, and Raymond uses the phrase "modern 20th-century life."

I got called in for jury duty just last month, and I got put in that new municipal building downtown. The waiting room really WAS nice - two-story windows overlooking the SoDo area, comfortable seats and contoured benches you could nap on... which was great, considering that I spent three days not being put on any cases before they finally sent me home for good.

By the end, I was finding my amusement playing Scrabble by myself, and I was coming up with words like "jihad" and "afire" and "wail," so it's probably best for all concerned that they didn't keep me there another day.

Posted by: Yet another goddamn Matt on February 14, 2005 1:46 PM

Next time you're called for jury duty just tell them you bought tamales from the back of a guy's van. Anybody that insane would be dismissed in a heartbeat.

Posted by: Duane on February 14, 2005 2:28 PM

I've got my very first jury duty summons coming up in March. (I feel all grown-up now!) I appreciate any opportunity to find out what I'm up for.

So far, I hear that

A) I can bring anything I want to keep me occupied, but
B) I have to turn off my cell phone in the courtroom;
C) if I'm not selected I get out by noon,
D) if I am selected I'll probably be out by 5:00, and
E) if I'm selected AND sequestered then I'm just flat outta luck.

Thanks to you, we can add...

F) I really ought to hope I'm not selected.

So very cheerful! Should I be hearing ominous timpani in the distance because my summons said "GRAND JURY" as opposed to any other sort?

Posted by: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little on February 14, 2005 2:31 PM

Nicole, that's all correct except for C.

I was never selected, but they made us stay till two or three o'clock the first two days (Tuesday and Wednesday). On Thursday, they did let us go home at lunchtime, and they weren't opening any new cases on Friday, so those of us who hadn't been chosen didn't have to come back in at all.

Posted by: Yet another goddamn Matt on February 14, 2005 2:56 PM

Don't worry about having to serve on a grand jury. They're just to see if the case has enough evidence to be put to trial.


Posted by: Citizenship Class + loud teacher = no sleep on February 14, 2005 3:50 PM


Great piece, and great observations on the completely insane pageant that is the trial-by-jury system. It gets billed as a search for justice and truth, but really it's an elaborate sport, with a multitude of arcane and frustrating rules. In the few cases that I have significant knowledge of, there has always been key pieces of information that were not provided to the jury for some bizarre reason or another.

It's also true that it may be the best system around, but shouldn't we at least be doing some innovating/experimenting to find out if we can do better? Like how about picking five or seven states to be guinea pigs for completely radical new legal systems, and seeing which one does best over ten years or so?

Posted by: Rock Steady on February 14, 2005 6:41 PM

I've always been kind of unsure about the whole concept of disallowing evidence because of, say, how the evidence was found. I understand the basic concept: In order to prevent illegal search and seizure, they try to take away the incentive by making anything found that way inadmissable. But in the end, that's allowing truth to suffer for the sake of protecting us from a specific type of injustice.

To put it another way: If a criminal is set free because a jury wasn't shown evidence that was improperly found, then was justice really done? Or, even if we admit that justice WASN'T done in that particular instance, is it still justified because it helps the system as a whole stay less corrupt?

It seems to me that the ideal setup would simply punish the illegal searchers-and-seizers while still allowing the full truth of the improperly-found evidence to see the light. But would that give too much incentive to those who would break the rules? Would there be too many police officers who would sacrifice themselves for the sake of such evidence?

And is there some other argument involved that I'm not seeing?

Posted by: Yet another goddamn Matt on February 14, 2005 8:32 PM

My ex said he was a surrealist. That got him off. So to speak.

Posted by: Max Mignon on February 14, 2005 9:32 PM

Ooh, I just received my first jury summons, to King County Superior Court in early March. (It makes me feel like a "real" grown-up, too.) Thanks for the preview.

Posted by: Thel on February 14, 2005 10:33 PM

Re different systems: I visited a friend's uncle once who was a judge in London, and who thought the U.S. jury selection system was insane. Over there, jury selection takes about half an hour, because the only questions they ask are about whether you've got an unavoidable scheduling conflict. Opinions and background don't enter into it, and the laywers don't have a say--it's all done by the judge.

Re evidence rules: my feeling is that I tend to agree with the old saying about it being a far better thing to exonerate a guilty person than to convict an innocent one, so the rules should be stacked in that direction. Also, law enforcement is very organized and has strong political clout, whereas those accused of crimes very much do not; so that makes me think that the rules must be mostly justified, because spurious ones would long since have been overruled.

Posted by: Klaas on February 15, 2005 6:47 AM

I got called for jury duty in King County last June. Resorting to a ploy I used successfully when called for one of my jury duty stints in Kentucy when I was living there, I carefully picked my reading material for the jury room. Unfortunately, none of the attorneys saw me reading "Reefer Madness" by Eric Schlosser and I only narrowly missed being seated on a jury.

On the first day at lunch, I wandered down to Elliot Bay Books in Pioneer Square. When I went to pay for it, I happened to mention to the cashier that I was on jury duty. He asked to see my juror badge and then told me that they give jurors 15% off of their purchases. At least there's one perk! Unless the cashier was only doing it out of pity...

On another tour of duty in Kentucky, I wound up in the jury pool for a civil case where a woman was suing Delta Airlines and Otis Elevator because she was on one of the moving sidewalks facing the wrong way while talking to someone, and when the sidewalk ended she fell backwards and hurt her back. I got out of it. What I said: "My father is retired from Delta Airlines and I can't be impartial." What I wanted to say: "If the stupid twit can't be bothered to look where she's going, I've got no sympathy for her. And her friends didn't tell her that the sidewalk was ending, why didn't she sue them too?"

Posted by: C. on February 15, 2005 12:33 PM

Matt, nice piece (wait for it...YES that's the piece I'm talking about).

There are 2 very obvious typos in the article (2-letter words, them both).

Posted by: Peter on February 17, 2005 6:19 AM

I have to start jury duty in 2 weeks. I'm worried about the responsibility.

Posted by: Gothic industrial music on February 21, 2005 3:35 PM