Jury duty is one of those things that brings up a groan from many people – not unlike the idea of going to a dentist. Of course, we at Magnus, and the clients we support, depend on jurors, or rather prospective jurors, to show up to participate when summoned. That, however, is not the focus of this post. (Magnus’ website has a section on jury duty where we “wave the flag” about the public service aspects of jury duty.) Instead, the focus of this post is more personal. It is my being called for jury duty. I have been called for jury duty at least 5 times in my life. The first, while I was in college, was a brief experience; I was excused due to my status as a student. More recent experiences have included one summon for federal court, and several for state court. I’ve, perhaps unsurprisingly, been willing to participate and curious about the experience, but I believed I would have a short day at the courthouse. That is, realizing that when asked, “Mr. Fauss, what is your occupation?” and the answer is “trial and jury consultant,” I figured my stay would be brief. And, in 2 out of the 3 times I’ve made it to the courtroom, that has been true. However, in one case a few years ago, on a “small” criminal case, I was not in the deselected group. That is, I was kept as a trial juror despite answering as noted above when asked my occupation. While I was surprised by this, I will say that there was a small venire of 16 and both the prosecutor and defense attorney did a very poor job during voir dire. In addition, there were some “scary” people on that venire who needed to be, and were, struck for cause quickly. Therefore, those of us who remained were few. But, while the defense attorney (public defender) did ask a few questions and elicit responses, the prosecutor basically did all the talking and no listening. I’d give her an “F” for her efforts, and the PD a “D minus.” (They were not much better with their handling of the rest of the short trial.) The prosecutor failed to ask the prospective jurors about their impressions of police officers – this was, after all, a criminal case. One of the other jurors selected was a woman with a hatred of police officers. At least one other was very suspicious of police behaviors. As a result of the poor job done during voir dire, not surprisingly perhaps, the “bad guy” was acquitted. And, as I later told the judge who had said when swearing me in, “Mr. Fauss, now you can see how a real jury works,” the deliberation process was exactly like that of our mock juries with back and forth, give and take, and a thorough examination of the evidence presented. So, no matter one’s occupation, one can be seated on a jury and, for most people, the experience will be eye opening – it is worth the time invested.
I have lost count of the number of times people ask me how to “get off” jury duty. Despite knowing my occupation and perhaps, in spite of knowing my occupation, these individuals persist in believing I am going to tell them to look and/or act strangely, say ridiculous things, or provide them with other ways not to perform their civic duty. I know some people who say things such as, “Only an idiot would not know how to be excused from jury duty”; or “I always tell the lawyers I hate (insert racial, sexual, or ethnic slur here) and they let me go right away”; or “I hold my head in a funny way and shout out ‘Guilty’ before they ask me any questions”; etc. as a way to convince me how clever they are in being deselected as a juror. None of these things endear me to the person who is trying to impress me with how clever he/she is; in fact, just the opposite is true. In my job as a jury and trial consultant, I have assisted attorneys in selecting juries for over 200 trials, including both civil and criminal matters. I have observed many fine Americans who are willing to do their civic duty by participating on a jury. I have also observed many other people who expressed hateful, prejudiced, and biased opinions about the issues involved in the case who are excused “for cause,” meaning the judge is convinced they are unsuitable to be a juror. Finally, I have observed many other people who, although they were willing to be on the jury, were excused by one of the attorneys because they were not a good fit for the particular case. (There is another category of jurors who, for medical or other reasons, are excused by the court for hardship. These people have legitimate reasons, not fabricated ones like those I mentioned above.) I am the last person whom anyone should ask about ways to avoid jury duty. I believe it is everyone’s duty to be a juror when called. I fully support the local sheriff’s office if a posse is needed to round up people who fail to answer their jury summons. (I had to wait with my clients many years ago, in a small town where no one wanted to get involved in a particularly awful trial, for a posse to knock on doors and bring in people for our jury! True story!) As a social psychologist with decades of research experience in human decision making, I would dearly love to be a juror. I have been summoned, but excused before participating in voir dire, on several occasions. I await the day when I can announce my occupation to the attorney conducting voir dire and I hope I will be selected. I am not afraid of doing my civic duty and I will never, ever, help anyone who is trying to shirk theirs.