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Answering all those burning questions you didn’t know you had about home ownership.

Jury Duty, A Day

Picture of Jessica Dabkowski

Jessica Dabkowski

Helping you with all things homeownership!

Today we are discussing every adult’s civic duty: jury duty! I know jury duty isn’t quite synonymous with home ownership, but you know I play fast and loose when I have an interesting topic to share with you.

The way I see it, if you sit still long enough to purchase a home, you’re going to get called for jury duty eventually. My specific service was in the Wayne Co. Third Circuit, but I imagine the process is largely the same across the country.

Summons Incomplete

In November, I received the dreaded Juror Qualification questionnaire. I dutifully filled it out online and made a mental note to watch for the summons.

The next communication I received was a yellow postcard nastygram in February letting me know I had failed to report for jury. How can I fail to report if I never received the summons? I’ll tell you how – I didn’t pay attention and the questionnaire is ALSO the actual summons.

Ugh. I go ahead an send an email requesting to be rescheduled. No response. Ten days later I follow up on the email and am told I am scheduled for May. This summons I actually receive so I feel relieved. You can get into quite a bit of trouble with the court if you repeatedly fail to report when summoned.

Know Before You Go

Here are some tasks I recommend you complete to prep for your service:

1. Map the location in advance and figure out where you will park. The Mathematician found a boss $3 lot when it was his turn in March.
2. Bring government-issued ID and a physical copy of your summons. The court workers will compare them.
3. Review the list of prohibited items because some of them are unexpected. (e.g. dental floss, highlighters, phone cords, bingo markers)
4. If you have a hardship that does not allow you to serve (e.g. upcoming travel, school schedule, etc.), bring proof with you to present the court.

Note: Only the juror may report for duty. Companions may enter the courthouse and wait in a public area during business hours, but cannot be in the jury assembly area.

It’s too early for this line

My report time for jury duty was at 7:30 a.m. I walked up to the building at 7:20 a.m. and the line was already about 50 people deep down the walkway outside the courthouse. Security and check in take a while, and I finally sit down in the jury assembly room around 8:00 a.m. I fill out my paperwork and slap a giant red JUROR sticker on my sweater.

Line of people down sidewalk and wrapped around for jury duty
Yes, the line wraps all the way around the median.

I alternate between reading my book and people watching. At 8:30 a.m., jurors are still being checked in, but they are now being directed into an overflow room to sit down. In all there had to be in excess of 250 jurors that day.

The show is on the road

At 8:58 a.m., the last juror is checked in. Then, we watch a six-minute educational video about the importance of jury service, the process of jury selection (aka voir dire) and some of the rules of serving as a juror or potential juror.

After this video, we get a crash course in how our day will go from our juror emcee, who turned out to be super pleasant and quite funny. Jury pools will be called in random groups and sent to the various courtrooms.

I’m called in the fifth pool and sent upstairs around 10:45 a.m. We wait another thirty minutes or so before being called into the courtroom where we are sworn to be truthful in the information we are to provide. Present is the judge, her clerk, the court reporter, the defendant, his attorney, the prosecutor, two deputies and a few family members.

The judge gives us a short overview of the charges against the defendant. The main charge being capital murder. Oh yeah, $h*t just got real serious.

Voir Dire

Jury selection, or voir dire, is both art and science for the attorneys. Understanding the potential innate biases people carry with them based on their life experiences is crucial to seating a jury that gives your side the best chance for a favorable verdict. In order to elicit information on these potential biases, the judge and the attorneys for the parties are allowed to question jurors about their personal lives as it may intersect with the case.

The basic process is the same across the state, but each judge may have their own nuanced approach to jury selection. The court clerk randomly calls an initial panel of jurors. The number varies based on the type of case.

20 Questions

The judge can then question those jurors about their background as it may impact their ability to remain impartial in the case at hand. He or she can excuse any juror “for cause”, which may occur when the juror explicitly states that they cannot keep an open mind for one reason or another.

The judge was actually really cool.

The attorneys may also challenge jurors to have them excused. They can challenge for cause (similar to above) or they have a limited number of peremptory challenges where they excuse the juror without disclosing a reason. For example, a defense attorney in a criminal case may use a peremptory challenge to excuse a juror who is a retired police officer, reasoning he may be partial to the prosecution’s case because of his history in law enforcement. Similarly, a prosecutor may choose to challenge an attorney juror because they do not want someone who can review the elements of a crime and point out where the prosecution’s case falls short of convicting under the law. (Uh, huh. Some of you see where this is going. 🤣)

As jurors are challenged and thus excused, a new juror is called to take the vacant seat. By the time my name is called, we’re back from lunch and it’s about 3:15 p.m. and about 7-8 jurors have been excused by this point.

Judicial Ping Pong

My memory isn’t perfect, but below is a pretty close transcription of some of my three minutes in the jury box.

Judge: Name, where you live and occupation.
Me: Jessica Dabkowski, Plymouth Township, real estate agent and attorney.

Both prosecution and defense attorney heads whip around to look at me closer. I can feel assessing eyes on me. I can also feel the judge relax that she won’t have to continually ask me to speak louder.

Judge: Do you practice criminal law?
Me: No, Your Honor.
Judge: Are there any of the previous questions to which you would have raised your hand?
Me: Yes, I do know quite a few lawyers.
Judge: Do you promise to refrain from speaking to them during the course of the case?
Me: Yes.
Judge: Do you promise to apply the rule of law as I provide it to you?
Me: Yes.

Prosecutor: We don’t get many attorneys in here. So you don’t practice criminal law. Was your last real interaction with criminal law in law school?
Me: Yes, but I got a C in Criminal Law. (laughter in the courtroom)
Prosecutor: If we (gestures to himself and defense attorney) mess up our rules of evidence in an objection, would that cause you to judge us or look unfavorably on us?
Me: No. (Because I don’t really remember the rules of evidence other than I can never properly apply “hearsay”. I got a C for a reason, folks.)
Prosecutor: And you can apply the law as the judge provides it to you in this case?
Me: Yes.

See Ya!

Prosecutor indicates he has no more questions for me. Defense has no questions. The judge asks whether either side has a challenge for cause – negative. No surprise, nothing I have said overtly indicates I can’t be unbiased in this case.

Judge: Mr. [Prosecutor], do you have challenge not for cause? (I’m already reaching for my purse and my book.)
Prosecutor: Your honor, the Prosecution would like to thank and excuse juror #8, Ms. Jessica Dabkowski.

I didn’t even need to pull a Liz Lemon.

Why do attorneys get the boot?

There are a few reasons why a party’s attorney may not wish to have an attorney seated on the jury. One, they may be concerned that the other jurors will instinctively defer to the opinions of the attorney, presuming she has some special insight into the process. Two, attorneys approach the law from a cool, logical perspective. If a party’s attorney is hoping to use emotion to sway the jury toward a specific verdict, they may wish to expel an attorney who can provide a stabilizing influence on the jury. Third, as mentioned above, when the law requires certain elements be met for a verdict, an attorney is likely to want to ensure that every single element of a crime or tort has been met before rendering the accompanying verdict. Sadly, our legal system is not perfect and often times the parties’ attorneys rely on the fact the juries are not educated in the workings of the law and play on emotions to get the verdict they desire.

On the flip side, a friend shared a case where an Attorney General specifically wanted a prosecuting attorney sitting on the jury because he hoped the attorney could guide the rest of the jury through the complex charges being presented against the plaintiff to get a guilty verdict (I believe it was a racketeering or drug trafficking case).

Anyway, that wrapped up my service for the day. After checking in with my juror emcee, I was released to go home as no additional jurors were needed that day. At least I’m free and clear for the next twelve months!

Takeaways for Jury Duty

Below are my takeaways for the next time I get called to serve:

1. Take snacks and drinks in containers with lids. I had sticker shock from the vending machines, and our lunch break didn’t occur until after 1 p.m.
2. Take a bag. The rule said no over-sized bags, but they literally mean suitcases and backpacks. I could have brought a canvas tote bag and been fine.
3. Bring a book, your knitting, your bluetooth earbuds (no cords!) or something else to occupy your time.
4. If you need to work, bring your laptop. If I had known it was allowed, I could have wrote an entire article while I waited.
5. Bring a good pen. If you are selected for a jury, the court pens are quite crappy.
6. Use the bathroom at every opportunity because you never know when you’ll go into court and have to wait awhile.
7. Dress for the weather. You may be waiting outside for a bit. The courthouse may be cold, hot or swing unpredictably between the two.
8. The summons said “business attire preferred”, but nearly everyone was in clean jeans and a nice shirt.
9. Speak loudly, the court reporter needs to hear you and the judge gets tired of asking everyone to speak up.

Unique Experiences

It was a fairly tame day for me other than sitting in a room with a defendant accused of murder. When The Mathematician served in March, he was seated and elected to be the jury foreperson, and he said it was AN EXPERIENCE. A friend of mine, M, went one time and got locked down in the juror assembly room because a defendant shanked a guard and escaped the building. They didn’t find the escapee for hours. The entire jury pool was sent home because the courts probably figured none of those jurors could be unbiased at that point.

Do you have a crazy jury duty story? If so I definitely need to hear it!

Thank you for joining me this week. Want more details on serving jury duty or home ownership? Reach out!

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Sue Weldon

    Haha.. brings back bad memories. I was called for jury duty, first time ever that I actually had to report and wasn’t dismissed the night before. We all assembled in a small theater in the court building, and the judge announced it was for a murder trial, oh joy. He was NOT having any excuses for dismissal.. one gal was even a cardiac surgeon who had cases scheduled that week. He gave her a hard time, but finally excused her. I was traveling for work at that time, had a few things scheduled, but figured he wasn’t going to let me go. We filled out a rather extensive questionnaire, one of the questions being “How do you get your news?”. Stupidly, I wrote that since I traveled so much, it was hard for me to catch up on local news. Let the salivating begin (since I hadn’t read about the case, I wouldn’t be biased). We moved to the courtroom, and rather quickly I was called to the panel. Having worked in the medical field, I wondered if they would keep me. One of the questions on the questionnaire asked if I knew any of the people on the list of potential donors. There was a policeman on the list I knew. The judge asked how I knew him, and I answered that he had been a “baby donor” at the blood bank where I used to work. Every head in the courtroom looked at me with the question on their face, which the judge asked: What’s a baby donor? (They were donors with specific blood types that were suitable to be used for the preemies in the NICU at the hospital.) The relief was palpable. I tried (not intentionally!) to insult the lawyers .. The prosecutor asked me “If you saw my partner and me laughing about something between ourselves, would you think less of us?” I answered “No, since I’d figure that you had a sense of humor after all.” The entire courtroom cracked up, including the judge. They kept me anyway. It was two weeks of hell and stress. Two guys had decided to rob liquor stores one day, had already robbed two, and at the third shot and killed the owner. The first guy had already been tried and found guilty. We followed suit.. and I learned that real court isn’t anything like TV court (imagine that). There are some very long stories, some funny, others not so much that I won’t share here. I was actually called for grand jury duty at one time too, but luckily they’re much more reasonable with dismissals, and the last jury duty I was called for was a case where the parents had abused their baby and killed her. I wasn’t selected for that one, I figured because of my medical background. Whew.

    1. Yeesh! I might to need to hear this story in person at some point.

  2. Sue Weldon

    Whoops.. “…list of potential witnesses..”

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