Friday, August 12, 2016

Jury Duty

I was called to jury duty recently, here in Kent County in west Michigan.
This is the first time I've actually gone to a jury summons. I've been called before, but in the past my work schedule has been an excuse. Generally they let you off the hook if you travel a lot, and I certainly used to do that. But this time, no reason not to go.

I was fairly pleased with how easy the initial process was. Most of the necessary information came in the mail, and I was able to fill out the information they requested on an online form. The only mildly strange thing was that you had to call into an information line over the weekend, before reporting Monday morning. I guess that was the best way they had to get out last-minute details, but when I called it there was no new information.

Some jurisdictions keep jurors on call for service for a long time - weeks or even months - but here the service time is only a week. Could be longer if you get assigned to a really big trial, but that's rare. Once your week is up, you don't have to worry about another summons for at least a year.

I had a little trouble figuring out where I was supposed to park, since the information wasn't very clear on the phone line. Turns out there was more detail in the mailer that I'd received, but I didn't notice it until after I'd already parked in the wrong lot. Minor issue, only cost me $4 for the lot I used, and it's my own fault for not reading more closely.

Once I arrived at the courthouse, the waiting began. There was a whole lot of that. The report time is 7:45, but nothing happens until a brief intro speech at 8:30. Then you sit around until they call a group of around 30 people to go up to a trial. That happened four times in about three hours, and I was in two of those. Once you're in a courtroom, 12 of those 30-ish are chosen for the jury, and you wait around some more while they answer questions. Once the 12 are confirmed, then you go back to the waiting area and sit around some more, repeating the process until all the cases have juries. I feel fortunate that I was able to leave around 2 PM - not a very heavy case-load on my week.

Of course, there's less waiting if you're one of those 12 people that actually gets on a jury. My name was never called, but quite a few of the folks in my groups-of-30 did get called up. The lawyers and judge are able to dismiss people for various reasons, so you might get called even after the initial 12 are chosen. Sitting in the audience, I wasn't sure if I wanted to be called or not. I was tired of waiting, so doing anything would have been nice, but of course then you have the responsibility of deciding a case. In the end, I'm not unhappy that I didn't get called.

The process certainly didn't seem very efficient, but then I don't know all the details behind it. There's probably a reason for all the waiting around and delays before potential jurors are called into the courtrooms. I did appreciate that a judge came down early on to the juror waiting area and gave a short speech about the trial-by-jury process. It was a nice way to explain the importance of jury service, and made the waiting slightly less annoying.

That's a civic duty discharged for at least another year. I know it's important, but I'm OK with having done nothing more than spend a few hours sitting around and waiting.

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