Thursday, June 4, 2009

No Time To Sit Here

No Time To Sit Here
Today's blog post will be an explanation (excuse) as to why I have not had a lot of time to visit my favorite blog pals and leave comments. The last four weeks have been a whirlwind of activity for us two laid back retirees. An excursion to New Jersey for four days; a quick and dirty honey do this list in preparation for a home visit of my Miami roommate of 1963; Memorial Day Weekend and on call for jury duty for the the last week of May and the first week of June. I think I have written about everything listed above but the jury duty so here I go.
Jury Duty 101
Have you ever received in the mail a notice that you have been summoned for jury duty and must report or be held in contempt of court? Well, till this spring I could have answered that question in the negative. On the other hand Jack could not say that because he has not only been summoned for jury duty in the past but has proudly served twice as forman on a jury for both Fairfax County and Prince William County. But my time finally came this May when I received a summons for jury duty in the Federal Courts in Alexandria, Virginia.
So the day after Memorial Day I was in Alexandria's Federal Courthouse Building with 120 other potential jurors for selection for just one trial. When I walked in the courtroom and saw at least 12 lawyers and 120 other potential jurors I thought this must be selection for multiple trials coming up in the Federal Court of Eastern Virginia. But no, all of us were being brought in and weeded out for just one trial. When the judge announced that he and the lawyers for the defense and the prosecution would be selecting jurors for a trial involving three members of the notorious MS-13 gang on charges of illegal gun possession, murder, racketeering and drug trafficking, etc, etc, and that this trial would last a minimum of three weeks there was a collective gasp of shock and awe from all of us. Sitting there I remembered Jack telling me that his two jury experiences consisted of quickie trials that began in the morning and reached a verdict by the end of the same day. Holy smokes!
To make a long story short let me just say that I made the cut from 120 potential jurors down to 85 potential jurors but was not selected when random numbers were drawn from a pot for the jury of 12 plus 4 alternates. Am I sorry that I was not selected? Not really. For one this was a 42 mile drive from Haymarket to the courthouse in Alexandria during the work week. The two days that I was in the jury selection pool for this trial Jack who was my chauffeur for this jury adventure left Haymarket each morning promptly at 6:30 to fight the D.C. metro traffic to arrive on time at 8:30 A.M. And believe me it took two solid hours in the rainy weather. But am I glad I had this jury selection experience. You bet. I learned a lot.
Jury Duty 101
What I Learned
1. The United States District Court for the eastern district of Virginia covers a lot of area for potential jurors. I didn't travel the farthest. I spoke with people making the commute in from as far away as Warrenton and Marshall and Leesburg. All of them had a commuting nightmare story to relate on that rainy Tuesday morning. One fellow from Leesburg told us he was too old to drive that far in rush hour traffic so he checked himself into a downtown hotel for the night. The rest of us were amazed since we knew the court was not picking up the tab for that hotel room. One person asked this man what he would do if he ended up being selected for the trial---pay the cost of spending three weeks in the downtown hotel?
2. Don't even try to enter the federal court in Alexandria unless you have been summoned as a juror, defendant, lawyer or witness. The security was as tight as going thru security at any airport. To gain entry you need your photo ID and official court summons letter, no camera, no cell phone, no electronic devices of any kind. Then on to the Xray equipment and metal detectors. (I bet they are equipped to even strip search you if you are suspected of carrying something illegal like a weapon or bomb into the courthouse.)
3. Potential jurors once thru security must report to the Clerk of the Court to register as a juror and to receive your jury number. Since 9/11 jurors at this federal court are no longer called by name but by number. Lucky me. My number was easy to remember: 0123.
4. You are weeded out if you personally know the judge.
5. You are weeded out if you personally know any of the lawyers.
6. You are weeded out if you personally know any of the defendants.
7. You can weed yourself out if you claim for some reason that you could not possibly be fair and unbias as a jurer in this case. (I didn't do that. I really thought that I would be fair and unbias. After all I'm a Gemini and can always see at least two sides to every story.)
8. When the court is hearing very famous/infamous cases like one in recent years when a 9/11 terrorists was tried at this federal court extra security measures are put in place for the reading of the verdict. In this instance many downtown city street were blocked off, concrete barriers were brought in and set up and vacant condos in the high rise buildings surrounding the courthouse were rented by the federal court and sniper gunmen were placed at the windows! Other measures were probably also put in place but not released to the public or media.
9. Each potential jurer must call after 6:00 P.M. each night to learn if they are required to report to the federal courthouse for potential jury duty. If selected for jury duty, you don't need to call because you know you are coming in for jury duty. And don't decide to skip town when on jury duty. The last man in this federal court who left town right in the middle of a trial to go be with his daughter in New Mexico who was about to have his first grandchild was fined a thousand dollars for this crime. You can also spend time in jail if you skip out in the middle of a trial. This is called being in contempt of court.
10. You are paid $40/day plus travel expenses for each day you serve. For my day and half in the selection process I received last week a check for $192. Someone who was called for jury duty and was in the selection pool said that all people who have jobs should be excused and the courts should just run a bus over to a local unemployment office and pick up some unemployed folks and have them earn some money by being on a jury. The implication of this person was that employed folks have better things to do then serve on a jury. Of course, this would not be a jury of your peers if only the unemployed and downtrodden were on the jury. And what about retirees like Jack and I. We I guess are neither fish nor fowl in this scenario. We are slugs.


DragonQuilter said...

Well though most of us don't really want to serve on a jury I have to say I would want folks like you two to be on my jury if that need ever arose. But then we aren't the kind of people who usually end up in court are we!?!

Denise said...

A fascinating post Joann and very educational.