Mike the Mad Biologist

Jury Duty: Do Yours

Nobody likes jury duty: most criminal and civil cases involve some moron doing something they shouldn’t have–and you end up have to waste time due to said moron. Nonetheless, having a jury trial is a cornerstone of our justice system. It’s also useful in the ‘smaller’ cases, since the ability of prosecutors to say “I have a jury next door waiting to hear this case” often results in plea settlements.

Unfortunately, Suffolk county, MA has a jury pool problem:

Suffolk County, facing a years-long surge in violent crime and a spike in trials, will run out of prospective jurors by October, potentially throwing the legal system in Boston and some surrounding communities into disarray, state officials warned last week.

Without jurors, the court system will be unable to hold trials, said Pamela J. Wood, the state’s jury commissioner. And without trials, judges will be pressured to grant bail to defendants charged with murder, rape, and other violent crimes, she said.

“This is a public safety crisis,” Wood said in an interview in her office. She and other officials said the predicament is unprecedented in Massachusetts.

On the civil side, courts will be forced to delay medical malpractice suits in the county, which sees more such cases than any other in Massachusetts.

The real problem is only 25% of those summoned actually show up (which mirrors my recent experience) in Suffolk County:

Last year, only a quarter of those summoned showed up for jury duty in Suffolk County, a rate far below other counties. Wood blamed the high number of students in Boston, who often skip jury duty, although they could face fines up to $2,000 and criminal charges. She also cited the influx of residents who are not US citizens or do not speak English, who are exempt from service….

This year, Conley has called for nine grand juries to investigate gun crimes and homicides, up from seven in 2006 and six in 2005. Each grand jury needs 23 jurors, but because so few people respond to summonses, Wood said she must send out 800 notices for each panel.

I’m not going to lie: jury duty is a pain in the ass. But it’s something we need, and it’s far easier to do than, let’s say, getting shot at Iraq. Show up for yours.

Comments

  1. #1 mollishka
    June 16, 2007

    If I recall correctly, the Boston area is one of the few places that has students on the jury duty list, just because they are such a large part of the population.

    And, yes, I showed up for jury duty when I got called while living there.

  2. #2 Troublesome Frog
    June 16, 2007

    Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like the jury selection process (at least in CA) could be just a bit less wasteful. On any given day, it looks like most of the people who get called into the courthouse don’t end up on a jury. I don’t see why people can’t simply be assigned randomly to cases after filling out a short questionnaire about obvious biasing factors. No careful hand-crafting of juries.

    A few other features would be nice in my area. Maybe having a change machine so I don’t have to go buy stamps at the post office to get coins to feed the meter twice over the course of my sitting around and reading a book? How about taking the pointlessly small daily paycheck for jurors and aggregating it into a fund to pay a meaningful amount to jurors who are stuck on long trials that cause lost wages.

    I don’t know about anybody else, but my company pays me for one week of jury duty and not a minute longer. If I’m stuck for three weeks on a trial, I’m out thousands of dollars simply because I wasn’t lucky. That’s the type of money people take out insurance to avoid paying, and I’m pretty sure that foregoing the few bucks a day we get paid for short trials might make some headway into insuring jurors against that type of loss.

    I never skip out on jury duty, but to be honest, paying taxes is fun by comparison. At least the IRS makes me feel like a citizen contributing to the good of society rather than a piece of toilet paper for the legal system to wipe its ass with. The sad part is, it doesn’t need to be that way.

  3. #3 natural cynic
    June 16, 2007

    I do agree that it really is a duty to be on a jury, but the ineffiiciency and wasted hours that TFrog encountered were seen when I showed up for jury duty in both a federal court and county court. In the federal case, I was one of about 200 that showed up and less than one quarter even made it into the courtroom for the two cases. In the county case, I was one of about 40 assigned to a courtroom and actually got to voir dire, but I wasn’t chosen. Only about two-thirds of the pool even made it to voir dire. And this was for a trial that was expected to last two days. After these occurrences, I am not eligible for further jury duty for 1-2 years. At least a half a day is spent by a lot of people for a small result.

  4. #4 PennyBright
    June 16, 2007

    I’ve been summoned for jury duty the first week of July, and fully expect it to be much like my husbands experience was last year — sitting around the courthouse reading and being ignored.

    Here at least we have a call in system, where you can call the night before to see if you need to come wait in person or not.

  5. #5 bigTom
    June 16, 2007

    I had to go last March, with an experience much like frog&cynic. Still I was very impressed that every one of the pool of 85 (it was a sex abuse trial) did their best to allow the judge & attorneys to honestly asses how they would be as jurors. California does call students, and missing a few classes doesn’t usually qualify as hardship. I’m amazed so many skip in Mass. The nasty warnings about not showing up made me think they were pretty serious about the whole thing.

    Of course the time inefficiency of the whole thing is pretty astounding. In my case I was obviously unacceptable to the prosecuter, as a one minute reading of the form we had to fill out would have showed, but I had to wait two days…. The way it was going I wonder how long it was going to take to get number twelve.

  6. #6 Brian X
    June 16, 2007

    How about this for an idea: dissolve Suffolk County. Give Boston to Norfolk or Middlesex, and give Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop to Essex. Counties in MA (and RI and CT) don’t count for much anyway, so I don’t think most people would really notice the difference.

  7. #7 a little night musing
    June 16, 2007

    I’ve been wanting to blog about my jury experiences and maybe this will push me to it.

    I’ve had nothing but good, if strange, experiences here in NYC. I don’t know where natural cynic lives, but surely it’s understandable that more people may be summoned than are actually needed? My first jury duty was for a famous terror-related trial – I went all the way through voir dire but ended up not being selected. 500 people were summoned – 500 who showed up, which I’m sure meant at least 2000 summons were sent out. But the whole process took only about a week and I think I was only expected to be there on three of those days – we had a call-in system. It went very fast. In that case, the impression we got from court personnel was that a lot of credit went to the judge for how quickly things proceeded.

    Some amount of sitting-around is inevitable because not everything can be predicted.

    Recently there have been improvements to the NY jury system that make it much less wasteful of everyone’s time, or so we’re told, and so it also seems to me. Just bring a book or a notebook or whatever to pass time while waiting to be called to a trial selection. It was a privilege to sit on the one jury I did sit on so far, and my fellow jurors were very impressive in the seriousness with which they took our job. And we had some great, non-trial-related, chats while waiting during the inevitable times during the trial when we had to be out of the courtroom. It’s just not true that juries are composed of only “people too stupid to get out of jury duty.” Quite the opposite.

  8. #8 Anonymous
    June 17, 2007

    I’m not surprised that few people show up for grand juries in Massachusetts. I was in graduate school there, and I was horrified when I received a summons for a grand jury. The problem is that Massachusetts grand juries don’t just serve for a single case; instead, they serve for a minimum of three months, plus however long is required to finish their final case (typically a couple of weeks, but perhaps as long as months). Practically everyone tries desperately to convince the judge to let them off. Fortuntely, I was excused because I was finishing my Ph.D. that year and this could have severely disrupted my studies.

    I can believe that keeping grand jury panels for a long time lowers the administrative overhead. However, it severely decreases people’s willingness to do it, and there’s no way the trade-off is worth it.

    Ordinary juries are another story. You might theoretically get stuck for three months, but that’s really rare (and typically only happens with important cases). I’d been on a jury several years before receiving the grand jury summons, which came the week after my period of being automatically excused from further jury duty ended. I wondered then whether they were timing things carefully due to a lack of willing jurors, and this article seems to confirm it.

  9. #9 Scorpio
    June 17, 2007

    I was in one of those groups that a person was paraded past until he decided to plead guilty. The judge called us in and thanked us all as if we had actually listened to a case…

  10. #10 Science Avenger
    June 17, 2007

    My one experience with jury duty, though some 15 years ago, was similar to most of the negative ones listed here. I was in a pool of 60+, and we were there all day for a selection of 13 or so. The really shocking part to me was how downright stupid some of the people in the pool were. So I started an Idiot List just to pass the time. And at the end of the day, wait for it…half the 15 or so names on my list made the jury.

    I would love to see someone with access to the data estimate the economic cost in terms of lost economic productivity of our jury selection process. I say give each lawyer 2 strikes for any reason, they can use them when the defendants brother turns up in the pool, and then (the four words that came to my mind most while wasting my day) GET ON WITH IT!!!

    Paid for with the savings from that, juries ought to be given the royal treatment. Give them their own parking lot, and pay them the average hourly wage (a good way to remind those of us with white collars just how low that is). Make it seem like a priviledge rather than a burdon, something to take seriously and do well, not just something to suffer through.

    Troublesome Frog is right, when doing one’s taxes seems fun by comparison, something is wrong with the process.

  11. #11 Anon
    June 18, 2007

    I have been called for regular jury several times, but only once put on a trial. That trial ended prematurely because of a plea-bargain.

    However, about a year ago, I was called for Federal Grand Jury duty. As another commenter mentioned, grand juries do not just sit for one case. In my case, the grand jury is scheduled to meet for 18 months, weekly. We don’t meet quite every week, (more like 3/4) but it is still a burden.

    Still, I think most of the jurors find it interesting enough to make up for the inconvenience and disruption.

    I am anon because both our proceedings and membership are supposed to be secret, and I have 7 months left on my term.

  12. #12 Joshua
    June 21, 2007

    I showed up for jury duty when I was called. During spring break, even. Although I can see how I’m clearly in the minority on this issue.

    Seriously, if Suffolk wants to call me again, I’m available. I think my other jury duty term was more than three years ago, so I should be eligible to receive that nice little slip in the mail.

    I’d be amazed if I ever actually sat on a jury, though. I have a brain that I prefer to use on independent thought, which makes the lawyers’ jobs harder.

  13. #13 Roger Dodger
    April 23, 2008

    the JURY system is bad in Massachusetts, I know of a person who is an illegal, is in the process of being deported, who is now sitting on a jury right there in Suffork County. His lawyer told him it is better that he serve it and dont say anything to anyone, than not serve. the guy is looking for a ‘paid’ wife with a Green Card to keep him here…….Our system is really bad if this type of person is judging a person when infact he broke the law as well. this is a double standard…….

  14. #14 button
    February 23, 2009

    a friends wife was called but was excused bcs she was friends with a police officer.a friend was excused bcs the trial was of a minority accused of armed robbery and my friend told the judge he and his wife were robbed by some type of minority.(true stories both).people who claim jury nullification are routinely excused from what i hear.u have the right as a juror to go against the evidence when deciding.maybe u think the law is unfair etc..a number of slavery cases were decided by jury nullifiucation years ago.if u were arrested in mass for aiding escaped slave the jury would often free u even tho u were guilty as charged.

  15. #15 button
    February 23, 2009

    another friend was called and asked if he or anyone close to him committed serious crime or were accused of committing serious crime.he said his sister was accused of taking a car and he was dismissed.(true story-she was accused)

  16. #16 button jr
    February 24, 2009

    i a recent local murder case a number of potential jurors said they had read of the case in the paper and had formed a conclusion as to the guilt or innocence of the defendant.they were excused from jury duty.that was the case where the grandson of somerville police chief was arrested for murdering his neighbor.was also convicted.

  17. #17 billy button
    February 25, 2009

    a local guy said “most of my friends are police officers “and got dismissed.i think what he said is true.he is pals with a bunch of cops.

  18. #18 billy button
    February 26, 2009

    i didnt reply to census for decades and was never called.then 1 year i replied and was called.tossed 2 summonses.about 9 years later i got summonsed again.i think they checked tel records bcs i used my middle name for my phone and thats what the summons said.they are still chasing me. sent 4 notices. i do not recommend u do what i did.but u may be good friends with some police officers.hint hint

  19. #19 billy
    February 27, 2009

    u can get jd extended for a year in mass.u can get it moved to a more convenient location.if u say”if he was arrested he must be guilty” u will get tossed.if u are a driver dont skip it bcs they will get a warrant and u will be arrested if they stop your car some day.only about 15% of those called serve anyway.many people enjoy the experience.the census is the list used.some people would say dont return the census but we dont advocate naughty behavior.

  20. #20 billy
    February 28, 2009

    if mass sends the jd stuff by regular mail u could say u never got it.how could u be punished if they cant prove u got it?u shouldnt lie bcs it might be perjury a serious offense but how can they prove u got it?we landlords have to have our 14 day notices served by constable to show they got it.

  21. #21 billy
    March 6, 2009

    the book “jury nullification”by clay conrad explains the role of jury nullification .if they ask u to swear to decide based on the evidence and u decline to do it based on the right of jury nullification u will get tossed .but read up on it first if u are using this defense.the supreme court upheld this right of juries to nullify the evidence if they so chose.

  22. #22 billy
    March 7, 2009

    a friend at jury screening said “i can tell if they are guilty just by looking at them.”he was tossed.

  23. #23 button
    March 14, 2009

    a lawyer friend said if u say “if he was arrested he must be guilty”u will get tossed.u do have a legal obligation to show up if called.if u dont they eventually put a warrant on u and if u are pulled over by a police officer years from now u will be arrested.we dont advocate u break any laws.but be good friends with your local police officer.get his name.wink wink

  24. #24 şişme bebek
    June 11, 2009

    if mass sends the jd stuff by regular mail u could say u never got it.how could u be punished if they cant prove u got it?u shouldnt lie bcs it might be perjury a serious offense but how can they prove u got it?we landlords have to have our 14 day notices served by constable to show they got it

  25. #25 Houston Injury Attorneys
    March 22, 2011

    She also cited the influx of residents who are not US citizens or do not speak English, who are exempt from service.

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