Monday, January 04, 2010

Serving on Juries

What I'm reading: Dead Run, by P.J. Tracy

Originally, I was scheduled for Jury Duty today. However, our system has all potential jurors check in the night before to see if their randomly assigned number will have to report. Mine wasn't on the list. I'm disappointed. Unlike most, who will do whatever it takes to avoid jury duty, including not registering to vote (although now they use drivers' licenses for the initial selection) I look upon it as terrific writing fodder, and just plain interesting. (And, who knows -- a place to pick up a few more readers!)

Although I avoid carrying any of my stories beyond solving he crime, I find bits and pieces I can use, although I'd be hesitant to set an entire novel in the courtroom, or even attempt a legal mystery. There are enough authors who know the in and outs from personal experience. Bur my detective consults always explain their process in terms of what they have to do so their cases will stand up in court. As writers, everything is research.

I've served on several juries, including one drug trial in Miami, where they left us with a kilo of cocaine in the jury room. Believe me, what goes on in the courtroom is nothing like what we see on television. Another trial here in Orlando was a very simple "did the defendant know the item he was pawning for a friend was stolen property?' We turned in our verdict, and when the judge set the date for sentencing (which happens later), the prosecutor stood and said that date was unacceptable because the defendant was going to be on trial for murder on that day. No wonder there were some television reporters in the courtroom.



Once I make the initial "report to the clerk's office" cut, if my name is drawn to be on a panel, I'm usually selected. I'm so white bread, the lawyers love me. Although this time, I'd planned to admit to being a mystery writer and having several law enforcement friends. I won't get to see if they'd still love me.

More often than not, however, once the jurors get into the courtroom and the lawyers start going through voir dire, the defendants change their mind about their day in court and make a deal.

But in addition to finding the process interesting, I think it's my duty as a citizen to serve. I mean, if I were in a situation where I'd need a jury trial, I'd want someone like me on the jury. Open minded. On every case where we've had to come to a verdict, I've been impressed with the way 12 strangers from all walks of life were willing to look at all sides of the picture, discuss all the evidence, and do everything possible to be fair.

It's really one of the only remnants of a democratic society. And, I suppose, I'm fortunate enough that I'm not losing money by serving. As a matter of fact, I'd get a whopping $15 for my service. And free parking.

Tomorrow, my first guest of 2010 is award-winning author Terry Spear. She writes paranormal and medieval romances. So what's she going to talk about tomorrow? Teddy Bears, of course. You won't want to miss it!

30 comments:

Mona Risk said...

What an intersting post Terry. Last month I was called on jury duty. My first time. I had a fantastic time, kept observing and taking notes for my writing. The district attorney wanted me but the defendant lawyer frowned when I hesitated when he asked: you will declare him innocent. Heck if the drug guy was guilty I wasn't going to vote him innocent. In the end they didn't take me. BTW I waved the $15.

Terry Odell said...

Mona - I wonder if the defense attorney was doing what they've all done at every jury voir dire I've experienced. They all start by saying, "if you had to vote right now, what would it be?" And the only answer possible under our system is "Not Guilty" because a person is assumed innocent until proven guilty. After you hear the evidence, then it's a whole new ball game.

Tamika: said...

I haven't had much jury duty experience. I was called once and sat for over half the working day to be told the attorneys had reached a settlement.

Really boring stuff for me.

Terry Odell said...

Tamika - if you're a writer, people-watching is never boring. And all those people 'in the same boat' seem to be open and friendly. Plus, if all else fails, it's a day to read!

But yeah, I think the defendants get scared when they realize what's happening and often settle.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

For some reason, my number comes up a lot--I've been summoned to serve as a juror 3 times. But I'm never chosen. Maybe some day.

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder

Elena said...

My first time serving was quite an adventure. It was in Chicago in the mid-60's when prospective jurors were treated as if they were going on trial. Men and women were in separate rooms, you had to raise your hand if you needed to go to the rest room and then they wouldn't take you unless nine other women were willing to go too.

Eventually got to the courtroom seated as we had been instructed to walk there, in twos by height. I was in the front row. It was a manslaughter case and everyone was introduced. The judge did his sternest and challenged anyone to claim they had a reason to not serve.

I raised my hand, he challenged me to say something he had never heard before. He did - both the defendant and the deceased were students in my home room.

I not only was excused, I was totally excused from sitting for the mandatory ten days so I could go back to my classroom.

Very different world then.

Jeff Markowitz said...

I think I've sold more books as a result of jury duty than any other "book appearance".

Beth Trissel said...

Fascinating, Terry. I had jury duty a number of years ago and almost ended up on a notorious local murder trial. But was called for a far less exciting case. I was just as glad. But enjoyed my gig. :)

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth - I think I get a summons every couple of years. Don't always (like this time) even make the initial cut.

Elena-Wow! Thanks for sharing that one.

Jeff--yes, marketing ops are everywhere

Beth - I don't think I'd want to serve on a long, drawn out murder trial. I'm not willing to go THAT far. But lots of courtrooms are open to visitors, so that's another way to research.

Carol Kilgore said...

I've been called for jury duty a few times but served only once - on a trial where the charge was sexual assault of a child. The verdict was easy to reach.

The last time I was called was for a drug trial in Federal Court. Mystery writer, husband involved in drug interdiction with the Coast Guard ... I was outta there.

Watery Tart said...

Like you, I would love it, though admit to extreme liberality so I have pretty strong biases (compassion for individuals, bias against businesses) and so my likelihood of being chosen is nearly nil...

I have never been called though. Oddly, my husband, who loathes the activity has been called 5 times (served twice, both before I knew him)... goes to show 'random' doesn't mean evenly distributed.

Mary Ricksen said...

That's a first someone who wants to serve jury duty. Most people hate it. But thank goodness for those who are willing!

Terry Odell said...

Carol - I did the Federal drug trial thing. That was my first experience with actually finishing a trial.

WT - I like to think I can be open-minded no matter what my personal biases, but the attorneys are skilled in getting the 'right' people on their panels. Or trying. One attorney in Federal Court had used up so many of his challenges that he was stuck with the last 4 people no matter what their feelings might have been. Lucky for him (I'm thinking), the defendant chickened out and settled before it went further.

Maryann Miller said...

I have yet to be seated on a jury, although I have always wanted to. When my kids were younger, I always had to be excused because I didn't have a friend who liked me enough to watch all five of them for an indefinite period of time should I be seated on a murder case that went on and on and on. Since then, I have only been called a few time, and each time the case was settled before the court date.

Terry said...

I'm one of those terrible people who, short of not voting, will do anything to get out of jury duty.

After reading your post, I'm rethinking this as I write mysteries too.

nancyjcohen said...

I hate going to jury duty. I can think of dozens of things I'd rather be doing than be trapped in a room with a bunch of strangers. I always say I write crime fiction when getting questioned.

The Old Silly said...

Haha - saw your tweet and had to blog in. I've done jury duty before, could have gotten out of it (not stupid, wink) but enjoyed the experience. And I agree, it is NOT at all like TV.

Marvin D Wilson

Terry Odell said...

Mary - I think I get enough out of it to make it worthwhile.

Maryann - our system seems to work differently; we get called to be in a pool, so you never know when you get there if you'll be on a panel. Or even if you'll be asked to report at all.

Terry - Here, it's 1 day or 1 trial, and most of the trials are over in a day, maybe 2, so the odds of being stuck for any great length of time are slim. Not to say it can't happen.

Nancy - since the summons gives plenty of advance warning, I manage to set aside that day. Plus, now with all the amenities in the waiting rooms (computers, etc.), you can even get work done if you don't want to take a 'day off'

Marvin - yes, it's a great experience, especially for a writer. I found one of the deputies on duty in the lobby was a firearms expert, and he was willing to let me pick his brain.

Jemi Fraser said...

I worry that if I'm ever called for jury duty that one of my students, former students or their families might be involved. Very awkward. I assume I'd be excused from their trials, but I'd still know about it.

Beth Caudill said...

We have the same system here in central NC. My hubby and a friend have been called a few times. But I've never been. Hubby hates it.

One of these days I might get called.

GunDiva said...

I LOVE jury duty. I've only sat on one Jury, but I loved every minute of it and don't understand why so many people manufacture reasons to get out of it. Number one: it's our civil duty and Number two: it's like your very own court tv without any editing. In fact, I got a new jury summons just last week, and I'm hoping to get chosen.

Terry Odell said...

Jemi - if you're related/acquainted with anyone, you'd be excused, I'm sure.

Beth, if you do get a summons, you should give it a shot.

GD - I think we're two of a kind here.

Sheila Deeth said...

My son served once but they didn't keep him. I'd like to sometime, now I'm a citizen.

Marie Tuhart said...

Great post, Terry. I've been summond 4 times, twice to criminal and twice to federal. I only served on one criminal trail and even though I had two nephews in law enforcement both lawyers wanted me on the jury. The case was short 3 days, I don't remember all the details, but there were two charges one was resiting arrest. We actually found the guy not guilty on that one, because the office said he tried to resist in the bathroom. In the area I live in (and where the house was a few neighborhoods over, but the houses are alike), the bathroom is barely big enough for one person let alone two fighting each other. And the other thing I remember was two police officers bringing in a witness for the proscution, who happened to be the guys neice, who addmitted on the stand that she was high that day from cocaine at the time the cops showed up.

I don't mind jury duty, I get to work at home (instead of a two hour commute) and I can people watch.

Sam said...

I've been summoned four times, but only served once. It was a civil trial, but it was still fascinating. You hear horror stories about frivolous awards and irresponsible juries, but the people I served with were all very serious about wanting to do a good job and be fair.

Sweetie and I spent a day watching a trial one vacation. That was fun, too, especially when, during recess for lunch, the prosecutor asked solicited our feedback on his case.

Terry Odell said...

Sheila, I hope you get a chance to see the system in action.

Marie, thanks for sharing your experience.

Sam, I agree that in my experience, the people on the jury do take their responsibility seriously. In this day, that's encouraging.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I'm usually dismissed from the jury pool as soon as either attorney finds out I was a witness in two federal cases many years ago (one civil and one criminal related to the same crime). I was surprised. I thought my experience would make me an excellent juror. :)

Terry Odell said...

Patricia - Based on what I've seen most attorneys are looking for jurors with little "experience" in the system. But who knows? On a big case, they hire jury selection specialists.

There's a character profession for you!

Heather B. said...

I just got off of Jury duty. I got selected back in the fall and was on standby for the months of Sept, Oct, Nov and December. We only actually had to go in 1 day and before they started selecting jury members for the trial, the attorneys had settled it out of court.

We weren't given numbers, we were given days when we went for orientation. I was a thursday juror and had to call every Wed to see if we had jury duty on Thursdays.

One of the other judges had a very high profile murder case going on in the same courthouse the day we got called in for jury duty. The murder made national news, it was a local news anchor that was murdered.

Terry Odell said...

Heather, that's fascinating. Where were you, and what kind of jury?