Did you know that even a justice or judge can be called to serve jury duty? During the first week in April, I was called to the Lucas County Courthouse to report for jury duty. In Ohio, citizens are randomly selected for jury service from a list of registered voters or licensed drivers.
I’ve already served once as a juror while a judge. And because it’s my civic duty, when I received the summons this time as a justice, I didn’t hesitate to follow through. I also wanted to see if the process had changed for jurors in the 14 years or so since I had last served.
Indeed it had, but for the better! The process was much better at respecting our time. Instead of waiting for hours only to be sent home at the end of the day, our summons told us to call in after 5 p.m. the day before to see if we had to actually report. My phone call said those in my group who lived in the area covered by Toledo Municipal Court had to appear.
We also got more information ahead of time. The map on the summons showed where to park (but did not say the amount needed), though the summons could have explained exactly where to enter the courthouse (two of four doors were closed for security). We were told that jurors are able to keep electronic devices, and that the magnetometer is much like airport security.
When we reported to the jury room at 8:45 a.m., we were given badges and were shown an orientation film sponsored by the Supreme Court for use throughout the state. The film explained what could be expected if you were selected as a juror.
Our jury manager, Juanita, kept us aware of the progress of the case that might go to trial. We were told that it was a municipal case, which meant 8 jurors would be selected from the 22 of us waiting. Although the jury room was relatively comfortable with books and TV, no one was required to stay there as long as we wore badges and didn’t talk about jury duty. Most everyone sat quietly, though.
At 10 a.m. a deputy and manager took us to the municipal court where we met the judge who would try the case. He put the first-timers at ease and let us knows it was a one-day trial, and he expected that a jury would be selected by noon.
In fact it took only until 11:30 a.m. when we were sworn in. Eight people were randomly selected for questioning on “voir dire.” The judge told us the defendant had been charged with improper handling of firearms while intoxicated. He then asked those in the jury box about their employment, and the employment of their spouses and adult children. He asked what part of town they lived in, whether they had been convicted of a felony, and whether any close friends or family were police officers. They were asked whether they could consider the testimony of an officer just as any other witness—with no greater or lesser weight. The judge wanted to know if they had any time or employment concerns, health problems, or any reason why they could not be fair and impartial. The prosecutor asked questions about gun ownership, and the defense counsel questioned them on the meaning of the presumption of innocence. Only three people were excused on peremptory challenges – one by the state and two by defense, and it felt like a lottery when a new person was chosen to replace someone.
When the jury was finally selected, we breathed a collective sigh of relief and gladly returned to common pleas to be signed out. Some people asked for and were given letters for work. We turned in paperwork and were told to call in again after 5 p.m., but that we would probably not be needed. She was right—my jury service of two days or one trial was over.
This past week, the Ohio Judicial College and Ohio Jury Management Association held their annual jury management course. This year, four people who served on a jury were asked to comment on their experiences. I wish I was one of them.
Statistics show that the United States holds 95% of the jury trials in the world that 5 million citizen’s report and approximately 1 million serve each year. Unless you’re a judge, lawyer, court employee, party to a civil case, or a criminal defendant, this is the one chance you have to be a participant in the court process.
But as my experience shows, it is very possible that even if you show up, you will not be seated. No one is automatically excused anymore because of having a certain occupation. So many people wonder — shouldn’t I try to get out of it? Isn’t it just a waste of my time? Before you answer, ask yourself:
If I ever need a jury, wouldn’t I want someone like me to be judging my case??