Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Jury duty: jury selection

The jury
Not us, but this is what the jury box looks like. Photo: Hennepin County
After my name was called in the jury assembly room, I joined a group of thirty prospective jurors in a group called a “jury panel.” The criminal case to which we were assigned required a jury of twelve plus two alternates. There were two defendants, each charged with three felony crimes.

The jury therefore would be asked to return three verdicts for each of the two defendants. Because the defendants were charged separately, they each had their own defense attorney, despite the fact that they were husband and wife.

To reduce the panel to the final jury size, we underwent jury selection, known legally as voir dire. The court administers a jury questionnaire. The judge and attorneys for the prosecution and defense are then allowed to ask each juror follow-up questions based on the responses to the questionnaire. The judge and attorneys try to ask probing questions to expose possible bias.

To understand how surprisingly intense this process was for the members of the jury, most of whom including I were first-timers, consider the rules we were required to follow until the end of the trial, to ensure a fair trail for both sides:
  • We were placed under oath to do our due diligence and render a true verdict only according to the law and the evidence presented during trial.
  • We were admonished by the judge to refrain from discussing the case with anyone, including family members, friends, and even our fellow members of the jury (until deliberation), and from consuming any media reports of the case.
  • We were prohibited from publishing anything about the case in email, social media, or any online or written medium.
  • We were required to power off our cell phones, and were prohibited from eating or reading newspapers, magazines, or anything except court documents while in the courtroom.
In short, we were subjected to a very rare (these days) experience of having to listen to the interviews for each of the thirty members of the jury panel, and later trial testimony, for up to 90 minutes at a time, without any distractions. When was the last time you had a meal, rode the bus, or went almost anywhere without seeing just about everyone using their cell phones, or not being able to check your own?

Jury selection took about a day-and-a-half as I recall, after which time sixteen members of the jury panel were dismissed back to the jury assembly room, to await assignment to a different trial. Immediately after that, the trial began.