Sunday, January 3, 2010

Jurors can take a break from social media, Internet

I am one of those people. When I received a jury questionnaire several months ago, I couldn't fill it out and return it fast enough. The jury summons appeared weeks later and I was excited. Why? Again, I am one of those people.

I served once on a county jury in a Georgia town. I was shocked then to be selected for service, especially since I worked for the county's only newspaper. It didn't matter. The county attorney was also selected for the same jury. I imagine there are a lot of factors attorneys and prosecutors go through during jury selection. I may not have been the best choice, but I'm guessing I was a better than someone else choice.

I suspect I was chosen for the federal jury last November, because I had a low juror number and a third of the people who showed up for jury selection knew the defendants. By noon, I lifted my hand to take the oath with 13 other folks.

I took the judge's instruction to not look up information about the case or talk to people about it very seriously. While at home, I checked my e-mail via my iPhone and didn't turn my computer on for the three days I served as a juror. I didn't watch the local news in case the court case was on some TV station's radar. It wasn't, but just to be safe no news for me.

I didn't think I was doing anything extraordinary until I read this Time article about jurors. Apparently, some folks can't stand to be away from Google, etc. I figured it was best to stay away from all the technology for a few days. Besides, I was exhausted after each day at court. Sure, we reported at 9:30 a.m., but we didn't leave until after 8 p.m.

Who had time to input any more data anyway? We were given all this information and we had no outlet for it -- we were not allowed to talk among ourselves and we certainly were not allowed to speak to other people about it.

It's interesting to see how jurors are influenced by technology today. Information and data needs to be presented in a way, so it captures the minds and attention of the jurors. In the federal courtroom where I served, they had an electronic "white board" that enabled prosecutors and defendant attorney's to show evidence, highlight it and enlarge the image to make a point.

TV shows like CSI often have a negative impact on the court system. Hollywood reality and crime scene investigation reality are two different things. On TV, they have the best technology and can solve a case every time thanks to clever writers. In reality, state crime lab budgets have been slashed and the scientists don't always confirm data 100 percent. Test results aren't ready in hours like they are on TV. State crime labs often have a backlog of cases and can't pass along information to detectives for weeks and sometimes months.

Jury duty is important. It's not convenient, but it's not totally unreasonable either. If your can't serve, you just have to ask for an excuse.

Jury duty isn't comfortable, because you are deciding something very serious -- guilty or not guilty. I look at jury service as if the defendants themselves had selected me. They asked for a trial by jury and I was asked (summoned) to help make that happen. They may not like the verdict I helped deliver, but the system allows them to appeal that.

At the end of the trial, I did what the courts and the defendants asked me to do. I did it all with just the evidence and information the court provided. I didn't use the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, Google or anything else.


  1. You are so right. Jury duty is important, but I have to tell you, the few times I've been selected, I've felt rather fortunate that I've had a good reason not to participate (living outside of the country, etc.). Things like this really stress me out. But good on you for being such a good citizen! And for doing it so well and nobly.

  2. It can be stressful. Those summons don't always arrive at the best time. Most courts are fairly flexible. I found the federal system to be very helpful, because they wanted the jurors to have a good experience.


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