Recently, I was selected to be a juror on a civil trial. I had always wanted to be a juror and was looking forward to the experience. The common description of Jury Duty is “boring”, “inefficient”, and “a lot of waiting around.” I really thought those would be exaggerations but they weren’t.
The process starts when you receive a jury summons in the mail. It can be for the State or Federal court. It can be for a Civil or Criminal trial. You don’t get to choose. The address for the specific courthouse will be on the summons. Along with a phone number for you to call the night before to see if they need you to come in.
In other states, I never had to actually go in when I received my summons. For this one, I did. I received a pink jury summons card for the Brooklyn Civil Courts. From what I can tell, everyone’s experience is different as it depends on the state, the way the courthouse is run, and even the particular judge of the case. So I’ll detail my personal experience but just keep in mind that your situation may vary.
The jury summons card instructed us to arrive at the courthouse at 8:30a. As a juror, every time you enter the Brooklyn Supreme Court, you have to go through a security check. Every time. In the morning. After lunch. Each day you attend court. It’s a pretty easy process, you can keep your coat on. Just remove your watch and belt. However, this of course can be a time consuming process so leave some time for this.
Once inside, you’ll proceed to the room number on your summons. In my case, it was one of the first rooms we saw, labeled Main Jury (room 260). In New York State, you are paid $40/day for jury duty if you are currently employed but your employer will not pay you while on jury duty. If you are a student, you will not get paid as you wouldn’t normally. Basically, if you’re missing work and losing money, you’ll get $40 for each day. Most full-time employment will pay at least 3 days for their employees. I am grateful that my employer covered my full time at jury duty.
What To Bring
You’ll spend the first hour and a half answering questions, filling out a survey, writing on your summons, then submitting your summons cards to the pool of juror names. Bring a pen. They kind of provide pencils but, really, it’s easier if you bring your own.
The court house hours are 9a-5p. If you do not get selected as a juror, it’s likely you will have to stay the entire time. Bring a plastic water bottle. You can bring in a full water bottle or any other drink (coffee) as long as it’s not a glass container.
You need to stay in the Main Jury room or the Juror’s Lounge in order to hear your name. Bring snacks/lunch or change for vending machines. You are given a lunch break from 1p-2:15p but you can’t leave the area otherwise. There are some vending machines so bring change or dollar bills. Also, if you go out for lunch, you will need to go through the security line again. You can’t reheat food or anything but you can easily bring snacks & a sandwich.
Starting at 10:30a, they begin calling names to go into the jury selection process for the different cases. Your name may be called right away, not until the afternoon, or not at all. This part is boring. You will have to simply wait around. Bring entertainment including books/smart device/laptop/etc. There is free wifi in the Main Jury room and throughout the court house.
The Selection Process
Throughout the day, you may hear your name called. You can hear names being called over the PA in the Main Jury, Juror’s Lounge, and bathroom inside the lounge. So you are confined to those three areas. Except during lunch. When you hear your name called, proceed to the room as directed in the announcement.
For each jury selection, they put 20 people in a room, randomly select 10 of them to question as potential jurors, then select 6 to be jurors on the case and 2 as alternates.
If you get selected as a juror, you will be officially assigned to the case, sworn in to the court, then dismissed for the day. The clerk will tell you when your trial starts and what time to return to the court. It could be the next day or it could be two weeks from now.
If you were not selected as a juror, you are dismissed to go back into the Main Jury room. You are not discharged from jury duty. Your name goes back into the pool of available jurors and you may get called again for a different case.
Again, your experience may be different depending on the type of court you are in and the type of case. This pertains to my experience at a civil court.
Being a Juror on a Trial
I was selected as a juror on a civil trial, breach of contract case. We were told the trial would take 3-4 days. It ended up taking 6 days – non-consecutively. The break in my usual routine was more annoying than anything else. Some days we had to be to the court house at 9a, some days 11:30a, and some days not at all. So you really have to pay attention to the judge for your next directions.
The trial itself is far more boring than what you see on TV. The main reason is that most of the lawyer’s bickering cannot take place in front of a jury. The jury can only base their decision based on questions that have been asked and answered and documents in evidence. So if anything else is discussed, it is not for the jury’s ears. So a lot of times, we sat in the court room for merely minutes before being asked to leave again so the lawyers can argue. Also, on TV it shows the lawyers going up to the judge to bicker but for us that happened out in a hallway so we didn’t hear it.
When not in the court room, we have to wait in the deliberation room. This was a very small room without decoration, one table and eight chairs, some windows, and a bathroom. We cannot leave that room except for lunch or other special permission. The officer of the court was like our chaperon the entire time. She would bring us into the deliberation room, follow us out, lead us into the court room, etc.
The deliberations process was far more serious than I had expected. To request any sort of evidence, we needed to write it on official paper as a standardized request. Then we wrote our verdict on a worksheet of sorts that was specially created for the case. Also unlike the movies, the jury foreman did not read off the verdict; the judge did. Apparently this depends on the judge.
For my case specifically, we found the defendant guilty of breach of contract. Not only did we have to decide guilty versus not guilty, but we also had to write down the amount of money the defendant owed the plaintiff. This meant reading pieces of evidence like contracts, deeds, addendums, receipts, etc. Fun times.
With all that said, I am very grateful to live in a country where we have this type of justice system in place. Sure, it’s broken most the time. But in this case, two men were bickering over money and a jury of their peers was brought in to solve the problem. I actually am glad to have performed my civic duty. And also glad that I don’t have to do it for another seven years.