As I mentioned in an earlier post, I received a summons for federal jury duty. On my first possible report date, I was not called in. However, I found out last Friday that I was expected at the courthouse on Monday. Naturally, I went. While I have read a few posts about jury duty, I thought I would add my own experiences-if only to provide some specific details to anyone else who happens to be in the Northern District of Florida (specifically in the Tallahassee area).
The jury duty process begins when you receive a letter informing you that you are being considered for jury duty. You will be required to fill out a questionnaire (I did mine online) and then, if you are selected for the next step, you will get another letter saying that you have been summoned. You will then do another questionnaire that is very much like the first (either mail it in or do it online). The summons will provide you with the location of your court (in my case, 111 North Adams Street) as well as your possible dates. You will need to call in (1-866-4756) the Friday before your first report date. You can also check online. This is actually in your interest to do-when you call (or check online) you will learn whether you need to report or not. In some cases, you might not have to go in at all.
If you do have to go in, they will expect you to show up by 8:00 am, although I did see a few stragglers come in after this time.
As far as how to dress, I received conflicting information. The “brochure” I was sent said that business attire was required-jacket & tie for men. Jeans, knit shirts, shorts, and other casual wear were specifically excluded. I opted to go without the jacket, but did spend 15 minutes learning how to tie a tie (yes, I never learned). Some of the other jurors did dress in business attire, but one person seemed intent on breaking all the dress rules: he had a knit polo shirt, leather sandals, and comfortable jeans. Other folks were a bit less casual, but still fairly casual. No one said anything-but none of the casual people were actually picked-perhaps they would have been “corrected” if selected. I’m reasonably confident that their mode of dress did not impact their selection, so using that as a strategy to get out of jury duty would probably not work. Also, dressing really outrageously might get you sent home to change or to report on another day.
In terms of what you can bring, weapons are obviously out. Newspapers are also not allowed, although magazines are apparently okay. When you arrive, you will go through airport like security (no body scans though). Just as in the airport, I had to hand over my keys and remove my belt for my trip through the metal detector. I even had to remove my shoes, which seemed rather much. Do your self a favor and don’t bring a lot of metal stuff. My junk went un-scanned and untouched, fortunately.
The brochure and web site indicated a list of specific electronics that could not be brought into court. However, the automated phone system informed me that no electronics (that includes phones) are allowed. I had been able to bring my laptop to county court, but apparently the federal court is far more restrictive. I did, however, bring some magazines, a book, pens, paper, lunch and water. I’m at old hand at dealing with bureaucracy and its waiting ways. I have a small messenger bag that is within the purse size range-mainly to keep bureaucrats from preventing me from carrying it-after all, if they allow women to have purses, they would be hard pressed to take my bag. I was allowed to bring it with me into the court, but everyone had to leave behind all liquids and any “exposed” reading material. So, for example, you couldn’t have a book or magazine in your hand or sitting openly under your chair.
Parking in downtown Tallahassee is always a problem, so I made sure I arrived about 20 minutes early. The brochure, summons and web site say to park at a meter (you don’t have to pay) while the web site while the brochure and web site do note that jurors can park in a pay to park area and the court will take care of that. What the documentation does not make clear, but what you will be told, is that the city will ticket you for parking at the meter. The person said that there is nothing they can do about this, but that jurors are supposed to bring them the tickets and they will put them through the traffic court. It struck me as really odd that they could not reach any agreement with the city, but maybe there are some anger issues there.
I didn’t get a ticket-but years of dealing with traffic & parking at universities has taught me a trick or two and I was pleased that the same method applies to the city. I’ll probably need my trick again (which is legal, by the way) so I won’t reveal it here.
If you do get selected to actually serve on a jury, you will be able to park in the court’s lot for free.
I was checked in by a former student-it is always good to see a student who is successful. Once you are checked in, you will spend some time waiting. They did have some drinks available, but no food. After the wait, one of the jury “handlers” will tell you a bit about the process (like how the city is ticketing your vehicle) and then play a well made PBS style video about jury duty on a HDTV. After that, you will divided into two (or more) groups based on how many people can be jammed into an elevator and brought to the courtroom to be seated.
Once there, the judge will go into his/her introduction and then a series of questions (which will vary with the case) will be asked. The lawyers will also have the opportunity to ask questions. The main point of this process is to determine any bias or other unsuitability on the part of the jurors. Since you will be under oath, being honest is the wisest choice. One thing that struck me was that several jurors had opportunities for an “easy out”, but no one took them. While judges no doubt vary, the judge was careful to ask people if serving would be a hardship for anyone and it seemed that he was genuinely sympathetic person. While no one was ecstatic to be there, everyone took their responsibility seriously. I was, to be honest, impressed with my fellow citizens. Good citizens are, as is often forgotten, a critical part of a truly just justice system and I was pleased to see people stepping up to the challenge.
While people do have valid complaints about the legal system and there are serious problems, you can play a role in making it better if you are summoned.
It was very interesting to see the impact of technology and the current political climate. The judge did ask if anyone had not used the internet (everyone had) and asked about blogging. I was the only blogger, which might have played a role in my not being selected. However, I suspect that the main factors were my being a philosophy professor and, of course, my tie.
Presumably because of the Tea Party movement, the judge asked if anyone was hostile towards judges, courts or government in general. Interestingly, one person who had noted that he listened to talk radio (Beck and Limbaugh) was questioned by the defense about how that might impact his decisions in the matter at hand. He assured the court that he would only be moved by the evidence.
After the questions were done, we were given a short break while the judge and lawyers conferred about us. After that concluded, the selections were revealed. I was not selected, which was actually something of a disappointment. It would, I think, be very interesting to serve as a juror. However, there seems to be something of a bias against philosophy professors. Given our reputation, this is probably understandable.