Called for Jury Duty

Approximately 300,000 citizens in Miami-Dade County are randomly selected by a computer each year to be summoned to jury duty for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida. Summonses are mailed to citizens who possess a valid driver's license or identification card issued by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

Miami-Dade County has a total population of about 2,370,000; of which about three quarters are over 18, so make that circa 1,778,000 adults. If 300,000 per year are selected for jury duty for the 11th circuit alone (ie ignoring federal court), then a resident's chance of being picked in any one year is almost 17%.

Assuming the chance of being picked was a constant in the past, from an ex ante perspective my chance of NOT being picked 14 years in a row was, I calculate, just over 7%. I know people who've been called three times in that period, which the odds tables tell me would be around the expected mean, but I was the seven-percenter and never got called. Well, my luck (good or bad) changed this week: I have just received my first-ever jury summons.

It used to be that being a lawyer made you ineligible to serve in most parts of the country. That rule is pretty much defunct now, perhaps because there are so many lawyers it shrank the potential jury pool too much, perhaps because the bar is no longer a small club where everyone knows everyone and almost every lawyer would have to be excused anyway.

Like most lawyers, I actually find the idea of serving on a jury somewhat appealing: it's a way of seeing the legal system from a perspective that is usually inaccessible to us. On the other hand, if I'm not going to be selected, I don't find the idea of going down to the court house and sitting around all day in some horrible room with a TV blaring to be at all attractive. And realistically, that's the most likely outcome: as a general rule, lawyers don't especially want lawyers on their juries. On the other hand, I know of at least two colleagues who have sat on juries, so it's by no means out of the question.

The date they picked for me is on a day I teach, so I'm going to apply for a postponement to May, one which the form suggests is routinely granted. Miami-Dade has a one-day, one-trial rule: you turn up once and either you are picked on that day or you don't have to come back until your name comes up again. I'll report back after it's all over.

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6 Responses to Called for Jury Duty

  1. Brett Bellmore says:

    How does being a lawyer interact with the whole “fully informed jury” issue? Knowing that jurors have the right of nulification is frequently enough to get laymen kicked off a jury, and I’ve heard of cases where a mistrial was declared when it was discovered one of the jurors knew his rights. One would presume this is something lawyers are all aware of, and so they’d be treated similarly.

  2. adam says:

    I would love to see this case where a mistrial is declared because a juror “knew his rights.” I think there must be something more to it than that. As for nullification, a lawyer could ask what the prospective juror’s thoughts are on the subject, and perhaps strike them for cause, but only if the judge found this to be a “cuasable” strike subject . . . meaning, not all judges agree that nullification isn’t a right the jury has. Instead, the debate (in the courtroom) centers around what a lawyer can inform the jury about, not what the jury might already know. Most all courts hold that instructing nullification is not proper, but this is distinct from what a jury does once they get the case. Once the case goes to the jury, the mental state of the jury (including their deliberative process, read: nullification) is off limits (at least under the FRE — only extrinsic extraneous influence can for the basis of a mistrial).

  3. Joe says:

    I graduated from law school in 1977. I did a little criminal and civil trial work, and I worked for a local government ever since. I got called for jury duty every three to four years in the same local courthose that I had prosecuted traffic cases. I would go to the courthouse and get excused from the jury panel during voir dire. During those years, my wife would also get excused from the panel after she told the judge that I was her husband.

    In 1998, I got called up for a federal grand jury. I did not get excused from service, and I was on that grand jury for 19 months. We met twice a week, but I did excuse myself from some sessions during times when I had court appearances in my government job. There were two other lawyers on that grand jury. Since that grand jury ended in 2000, I have been on two petit juries in the local courthouse, one civil, one criminal. In the criminal matter, the judge was a former chief of my office. It appears to me that if you are the type that will respond to a jury summons, and if you live in a big city, you will be called repeatedly to be part of the jury pool. As long as people like me keep getting called (I hate Faux News), the republic is safe. However, there will come a point where the jury pool will be composed of mouth breathers like Glen Back and Bill O’Liely, and we will then lose our remaining civil rights.

  4. Anonymous 1L says:

    Yes, because the Republic is only safe when people who don’t watch Fox News serve on juries. Otherwise, all them right wingers on juries would willingly sacrifice the rest of our civil rights to Dear Leader Bush.

    The utter stupidity of this argument is simply astounding.

  5. Ann Bartow says:

    I got called twice in one summer; first to muni court, then by the feds. I learned that if I wore tie dye, every single prosecution team would strike me.

  6. Joe says:

    Anonymous, right-wingers aren’t the problem. Stupid people who don’t exercise their brain cells are the problem. Good luck on the bar exam.

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