Thursday, November 22, 2018

Jury duty: summons

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.
— Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America
Trial by jury is a Constitutional protection that most citizens take for granted as a theoretical factoid from ninth grade civics class. The day I received a summons to jury duty by the Hennepin County District Court was the day that I started getting up close and personal with the Sixth Amendment.

Jury duty is an important civic responsibility. Hundreds of prospective jurors are needed weekly to be on call to fill juries for civil and criminal trials in Hennepin County.

My employer pays my regular salary for time off for jury duty, and our kids are adults who are living on their own. I had no reason to seek an exemption from the two week stint, other than inconvenience, so I responded as instructed by the summons.

During the first week of my service, I chose to call a recorded telephone line to hear whether my group would be called to appear in person to the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis. During that first week, my number never came up. So far, so good!

Sunday evening of the second week, my number came up to report in person to the court at 8:15 a.m. on Monday.


I took mass transit into downtown  Minneapolis, made my way through the Government Center airport-style security checkpoint, and up to the top floor to the Jury Assembly room, which I affectionately ended up calling “purgatory.” The assembly “room” is a suite with a waiting area that seats over 100, a business center with laptop carrels, and a small break room with vending machines, microwave ovens, refrigerator, and sink.

The county has a refined process for efficiently moving dozens of first-time juror candidates through orientation into “purgatory.” The experience is like waiting to renew your driver's license, except you can't go home until dismissed. The one thing people want more than food, water, or restrooms — free WiFi — is provided. Our orientation trainer warned us that we would have so much time to use our phones and laptop computers that we would eventually not want to even see them! The county also provides magazines, board games, TVs tuned to the news, the Weather Channel, and Friends, and a spectacular view of US Bank Stadium,  East Town, and the downtown Saint Paul skyline on the horizon.

Every so often, the TV screens would display an attention message and staff would read the names of individuals to report to a courtroom for jury selection. My name was called shortly after lunch break.