April 09, 2002
Civic whining

Via Kyle Still comes this request by Scott Rubush for tips on how to get out of jury duty. I have to say, I have no patience for this kind of whining. Whatever complaints one may have about our justice system, it's what we've got and it needs all of us to make it work. In my opinion, anyone who expends effort trying to weasel their way out of this infrequent commitment (this is the first time Rubush has been called) loses all right to bitch about stupid verdicts and pantywaisted plea bargains, just as anyone who can't be bothered to vote has no business moaning about lousy officeholders.

Reading the comments, I see that several people believe that being too "educated" will get you excluded. Well, at the risk of being immodest, that didn't work for me. I served on a jury for a DUI case. The voir dire was very basic - other than standard questions to ensure that potential jurors did not know any of the parties involved, there were a few questions about one's attitude towards drunk driving and the police. If either lawyer could have determined my educational pedigree from that, they're smarter than I am. Being smart didn't get me excluded, it got me elected jury foreman. Caveat emptor, Scott.

For further confirmation of this, I asked my father, who spent 14 years as a state Supreme Court justice in New York. He tells me

[J]urors today are better educated than those who made up the pool when that idea became the norm. In my experience, a jury of twelve in cases I tried were almost all college graduates or at the least had education beyond high school. As a matter of fact, I tried a case when 9 of the 12 had advanced degrees.

Another commenter says that being a "hang 'em high conservative" will get you off. Being an opinionated jerk of any political stripe will probably get you exlcuded, but again, there's no guarantee that the question of your core beliefs will arise. I suppose you could interrupt the voir dire proceedings by screaming "Death to the infidel! Viva Reagan!" or some such and hope that the judge doesn't feel like citing you for contempt. Personally, I'd rather maintain my dignity but hey, it's a free country. Dad agrees that showing an obvious bias will get you out. He also confirms that a judge could cite you for contempt if you're particularly egregious. He never did it himself, but he's a pretty laid-back guy. Do you feel lucky, Scott?

Believe it or not, what everyone generally wants is impartial jurors. Certainly, attorneys will use peremptory strikes to get a jury that they think is favorable to their side, but as with many things in life you just can't tell how it's going to turn out. Here's an interesting story on that subject from my dad:

I tried a Grand Larceny case. The defendant's fingerprints were found on the cash box. Open and shut if you believed the DA. Defense counsel left on the panel a 24 year veteran detective, [a] guy [who] looked like [Don] Zimmer. Anyway, after the case was put to the jury and we waited hours for a verdict, the jury came back and acquitted the defendant. Intrigued, I spoke to the cop and asked him about the deliberations. He said he didn't say a word until they asked for his opinion. He told the jury the only issue they had to determine was when did the fingerprint get on the box. If it was as the DA claimed, during the taking, or as the defense claimed it was before he separated from his wife (they were living with the cash box owner then) the case was easy to decide. Good choice for the defendant since he needed a cop on the jury who was an investigator; good choice for the DA because he wanted someone who had worked these cases before.

So if a defense attorney would allow a 24-year veteran detective on a jury, maybe one would allow a "hang 'em high conservative" as well. Unless, of course, you think it's a sure thing that no one would believe that such a person is capable of judging facts in a fair and reasoned manner.

I did come across one pretty good strategy for getting out of jury duty, which is to profess a belief that juries have the inalienable right to ignore laws which they think are illegal. You have to scroll down on this page to see an example of this in action. Of course, the folks on this page honestly believe this is true, and the page in question is about how they can survive voir dire and get to serve on a panel. To each his own.

Finally, Scott, jury duty in Los Angeles is similar to jury duty in Houston in that it's a one trial term. Basically, you call in and see if they need you. They may never need you for the five day period, in which case you're done. If they call you in and you wind up not getting selected for any jury, you're done. Only if you're called for a jury selection that spans multiple days or if you actually get empanelled will you be there more than one day. You can postpone your service if it's inconvenient, and under some circumstances you can be excused. So quit griping already and do your civic duty.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 09, 2002 to Society and cultcha

Dear Mr. Kuffner,

Do you even read these comments?

I wouldn't mind serving on a jury IF:

1) My life hadn't been riddled with sorrow by knowing both criminals and victims, and

2) I didn't have various medical conditions.

In the first case, voir dire is as painful as having my skin torn off. I know -- I went through voir dire once. There are things that potential jurors are asked that outside of a courtroom no one with any sense of decency would ask another human being. I understand that what a juror faces psychologically when being interviewed isn't necessarily what a defendent is facing. But, can't a judge tell that extreme psychological and emotional pain about life circumstances just might make it hard for a juror to function and release such a person before totally destroying what little shred of happiness they have in this life? Or, in other words, don't lawyers and judges have to have some common sense if not common decency?

In the second case, when all I had to do was produce a letter from one of my doctors who would simply state that I had limitations, courts respected that, and I was happpy to comply. However, in the State of California, the courts no longer respect what physicians write in letters. The courts, in essence, call physicians liars and demand that information that has been considered personal, private, confidential and still is legally protected under physician-client confidentiality laws be opened up to any Tom, Dick or Harriet that happens to have the little form in his or her hot little hand (or the private files for that matter) and wants to go poking around where he or she have no business being.

Would a lawyer or a judge allow the law to violate lawyer-client confidentiality in this way? I highly doubt it.

I always check the little box and sign the little lines and fill out my doctors' names, addresses, and phone numbers when saying that I would not be a good candidate on a jury. I do so because I can be punished if I don't. That's our system: surrender all of your rights or be fined and/or sentenced to time in jail or prison.

Yeah. I'm whining. I think it is wrong and a travesty of American Rights. And, one of these days I hope people bigger than me take the legal system to task for it.

Yours truly,

That Whiney Female, Michele

Posted by: Going out on a limb stupidly to whine Michele on April 2, 2003 9:53 PM

Dear Michele,

Yes I do read these comments (thankfully, Movable Type alerts me when a new comment appears in an old post like this). I don't know your situation so I can't really address your points, but I will say that if you have a medical condition and a doctor's note saying that you should not be on a jury, that should be enough to get you excused. I guess if I were in your position, I'd contact my county clerk and explain my situation.

I wish you luck.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on April 3, 2003 9:35 AM

I know is a duty to perform as a citizen but what are the concequences if you don't show up?

Posted by: Ken on July 3, 2003 9:37 PM

Ken, the consequences depend on the court. I'm told by a coworker who served on a federal jury that if you fail to show, federal marshals will be sent to track you down and escort you to the courtroom. County and state courts don't usually go that all-out, but you could be cited for contempt, which may mean spending a few hours in lockup. One way or another, you will be required to do your duty.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on July 4, 2003 10:56 AM