Jury duty: follow along!

So I’ve got jury duty today (Tuesday). On the one hand, jury duty can be a big pain; on the other, the jury system is in its way kind of awesome, and it only works if everyone participates. So I’m trundling up to Lowell bright and early, and we’ll see what happens.

I thought I’d live-tweet as much of it as I can – obviously there are limits to what I can publish, but to the extent possible, I’ll offer a play-by-play of my adventures at the Lowell courthouse. Hashtag: #bmgjuryduty. The feed (now concluded) is on the flip.


23 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Happened to be checking judge assignments

    and saw your post. These are the Superior Court assignments that might pertain to Lowell tomorrow – from Lawyers Weekly.

    Woburn/Lowell Civil L2 — CtRm740 WALKER III, Joseph M
    Lowell Criminal 7 — CtRm1-cr RICCIARDONE, David
    Lowell Civil L1 — CtRm2-uppr KIRPALANI, Maynard M

    I don’t recognize one name. Godspeed — to the both of us.

  2. Some of it will be enjoyable

    The court officer charged with orienting jurors is pretty entertaining, and they try to make it as pleasant as possible. Last time I had jury duty (at Lowell Superior Court), we waited around until after lunch, then the judge let us go. He wanted to try a case, but the lawyers had dumped a pile of evidence on him at the last minute, and he couldn’t get through it in time. He was annoyed.

  3. how often do you BMGers get summoned?

    I did a one-day civil trial in Cambridge back in the 90s, I believe. That gave me a three-year reprieve. Since then I’ve been summoned a few times but each time it was called off the night before, sometimes for weather, sometimes for other reasons. I can’t remember getting a summons for the last five years or so.

    • I've been summoned 4 times since the late nineties

      Mostly I’ve had to go to Worcester, but once they sent me to East Longmeadow, had to be on the road at 6:30 that morning! I’ve never been impaneled, got questioned once for a trial but I wasn’t chosen.

      • It annoys me when they assign jurors

        to the most inconvenient location possible. I’m willing to do my civic duty, but make some effort not to maximize inconvenience. Don’t give people a longer trip to serve than an average commute to work.

        • Average is relative I suppose

          It’s tougher in the larger counties. The fact of the matter is that many courthouses are 100+ years old. Since then, our transportation infrastructure and the relative density of different communities within a county have shifted dramatically, resulting in a mismatch of potential jurors and courthouses.

        • I'm within walking distnce of Milford Courthouse

          It’s about 1/3 of a mile away. I’ll never serve jury duty there, too much risk that I’d know a defendant. But you’re right, that morning’s trip to Est Longmeadow sucked, their computer program making the assignments needs a little work.

        • So ask to be reassigned

          I always do, and they always do.

        • A little-known fact

          If you’re over 60, they will reassign you to any location you want.

    • I've got jury duty in December

      I’ve was called once before a few years ago, no cases that day, so we were all sent home.

      • Never been called in Massachusetts

        The last time I was called was in New York in 2006. I was clerking for a federal judge in the courthouse next door at the time. They put me in the box for questioning but once they learned that the ADA couldn’t get me out of there fast enough. I was back at work by 11 AM.

    • This is the third time

      I’ve been called over the years. Sat on trials the previous two times (one civil, one criminal); this time was let go when the case settled.

    • Once in 16 years

      Ironically, the tv in the holding pen was tuned to some show (Maury Povich?) talking to jurors from famous cases who’d all acquitted the defendants.

      I remember thinking “hey, we’re a tainted jury pool”. But we got sent home.

      sabutai   @   Tue 20 Nov 6:54 PM
    • In Boston, I get summoned every 3-4 years.

      Boston seems to have a high demand for jurors, so we generally get called not too long after the three year limit has passed. I have lost count of how many times I have gotten summoned, but I have served on juries twice, most recently on a one day minor assault charge and before that on a week long civil trial involving commercial real estate partners suing each other. I was the last peremptory challenge from another jury for a medical malpractice case (probably because of doctors in my family).

      Both times were fairly positive experiences, although there were some boring parts.

  4. I've been called...

    several times, but never served, all over Middlesex County. Hang around until lunch, get dismissed. Given a lunch break, get dismissed on checking back in. Get as far as sitting in the jury box for voir dire, attorneys read my form & learn that I am/was an attorney, bye-bye. I am now over 70, so will not be called again. I really wanted to serve, but never had the opportunity.

  5. Got time for a drink afterwards?

    Since you’re up in our neck of the woods. :)

  6. Did a criminal case once.

    About six years ago I served on a jury in a criminal case in JP. I think we all thought the guy was guilty but the case was weak and we had to acquit. Some of it hinged on the geography of Boston and I learned that black people have a different sense of how to go from West Roxbury to Charlestown than white people. I also learned that the jury system is the single best check we have on government tyranny. And I say that as a democratic socialist. Embrace it. Jury duty is citizenship at its best.

  7. I was on a case about 5 years ago, the one thing that struck me was how much time had elapsed from the incident until the trial. It was 18 months, I think. When they asked witnesses to testify, they seemed very fuzzy, probably because of this lapse.

    I was also shocked when they asked the question “the defendant in this case is African-American; do you think that African-Americans are more likely to commit a crime”, that some people answered “yes” – they were summarily dismissed. So much for living in a post-racial era…

    We acquitted the defendant because the case was ridiculously weak, to the point where I think it’s possible that a certain amount of evidence must have been excluded or something. The case went like this:

    1) Defendant went to convenience store to purchase something. He got back some change.

    1a) Defendant claimed to go to the liquor store to buy some liquor; he bought the liquor but they wouldn’t take one of his bills because it was ripped.

    2) Some time later, someone robbed the convenience store with a gun; he was masked. He did not have the same clothes on as the defendant from #1, except that he was wearing the same kind of Timberland boots.

    3) Defendant from #1 later returned to the store to exchange the ripped bill, I believe while the police were still on the scene. Clerk claimed that the ripped bill must have been taken in the robbery because she remembered putting it on the bottom of the stack of bills in the register, thus the defendant was arrested. He was found to have a gun lock on him (gun locks are similar to bike locks. He arrived on a bike and claimed that the gun lock was given out by the DA in a publicity event, and he used it as a bike lock). He was found with the amount of change on him that corresponded to the original transaction minus the liquor. He was wearing the same clothes as when he first entered the store (not the clothes of the robber)

    No mention of finding the gun; no mention of finding any money. I believe they found the liquor he claimed to have purchase. No security camera footage.

    I can’t figure out why they would even bring that to trial. We acquitted in 5 minutes.

    • Weak Police work

      That sounds like it was pretty weak police work and kind of a bad faith prosecution. On my case I actually thought the prosecutor’s case was made in good faith, the prosecution testimony was much more believable than the defendant’s but it wasn’t beyond a reasonable doubt so we acquitted. I was the holdout juror (to convict) for like a whole 10 minutes. But the whole experience is way different than it’s portrayed on TV and a lot less precise. But they tell no lie, juries are really key players in our justice system and that’s a good thing.

    • It does seem like a weak case

      I was also shocked when they asked the question “the defendant in this case is African-American; do you think that African-Americans are more likely to commit a crime”, that some people answered “yes” – they were summarily dismissed.

      I don’t see this as surprising. Such attitudes persist. One possible “benign” explanation is that many people are willing to say anything that will get them “summarily dismissed.”

      When I worked in a courthouse we had a well-known actress in the jury pool. She said that she “wasn’t sure” she could be impartial, since she’d recently rode with police for a gig and saw how tough the job is. She was retained and made a face. Five minutes later she was “hoping” she could be fair but, gosh, she really liked those cops. Still not dismissed. Another face. Another three minutes and she “just couldn’t be impartial because the cops always get the right person.” She was dismissed.

      The funny part was that it seemed pretty transparent to me and my colleagues, but the judge was very impressed with how “conscientious” she was in considering her own impartiality.

  8. Thanks for Serving

    You’ve got a great attitude about your service. Thank you. On a macro level, our jury system is the greatest way to get to the truth of a matter. On a micro level, we still can do a lot more to improve trial scheduling so we don’t waste jurors’ time. One innovation since abandoned in Massachusetts, the Smart Calendar, ensured that jury trials almost always were reached on their first scheduled date, http://www.ncsconline.org/WC/Publications/KIS_CtFutu_Trends97-98_Pub.pdf It’d be great to see more work done to improve the system for the benefit of our justice system and our citizens.

    dan-winslow   @   Wed 21 Nov 11:30 AM
  9. "They really do call everyone."

    Funny story — a few years back my wife served in a jury pool with Justice Stephen Breyer. When the judge asked if anyone was involved in law enforcement or prosecution, he went up and admitted that he was the prosecutor for Watergate.

    He was dismissed.

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