My Jury Duty Experience

A few weeks back, I received a jury summons. I’ve never served on a jury, and I wouldn’t mind doing so, except that right now I’m relatively busy with client work. In addition, I’m bidding some projects that I might lose if I end up spending two or three weeks in a jury box.

I’m not a student, and last I checked, Obama hadn’t yet approved my request to become the ambassador to St. Lucia, so I didn’t have an easy out. I responded to the summons online, recorded some schedule conflicts (please don’t make me show during PubCon!), and was placed on a jury panel for one of the Travis County criminal courts on Wednesday, November 18th.

Now, I realize that the odds of my being actually placed on a jury are pretty small. Rarely do we wacky libertarians get put in a place to determine anyone’s fate. And, if it looks like I am going to be placed on a jury, I can always begin speaking extemporaneously on the wonderful history of American jury nullification.

That should be an instant ticket home.

I showed up as scheduled at the Travis County Courthouse at 1:30pm. There was a sign telling us to wait outside the courtroom.

We watched a handful of client-attorney pairings go in and out of the courthouse. Some of them looked happy on the way out, but most, not so much. There were probably twenty or so potential jurors waiting.

After a while, one of the court clerks (I assume) came out, called roll (that’s been a while), and had us fill out some paperwork (you mean I’m being paid six dollars just for showing up!). After we had been there half an hour or so, she started calling us by name to have us go sit in the courtroom in order.

About half had entered the courtroom when they were suddenly sent back out. Apparently, the judge wasn’t as ready as was believed.

We sat for another twenty minutes or so, and finally the judge asked us all to come into the courtroom. It didn’t matter what order.

The judge then explained to us what was going on.

She said that she used to have the jury panel show up at 10am, but they tended to sit around doing nothing for three or four hours. So she changed it to 1:30pm.

At the start of the morning, she had had fifty cases on the docket. In the morning session, all but four of these pleaded out. The four holdouts wanted to go to trial.

What the judge has learned through experience is that the presence of an actual jury panel, ready to go, often decreases a defendant’s enthusiasm for a trial. So, we served the purpose of getting those other four to plead.

And while the judge didn’t admit it, I suspect that one of the four was being really stubborn, so she started seating the jury members in the courtroom, causing the last one to fold.

I have to admit, that’s a fairly effective way of handling things. I was in and out in about an hour.

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