Dear Susan Vaughan,
You are hereby notified that you have been drawn to serve as a Traverse Juror in the Superior Court and/or Unified Criminal Docket. You are required to appear on Wednesday, December 4, 2013 AT 8:30 AM at 62 Union Street, Rockland, ME.
Yes, I’ve been called to jury duty. Traverse Jury is a trial jury for either criminal or civil cases. This is my third time, but I’ve yet to be chosen for a jury. I’m ambivalent. While the experience would be great research for a writer of suspense and mystery, it’s just before Christmas, when there’s so much else going on. Not that holiday shopping is a valid excuse to get out of jury duty.
The idea prompted me to investigate the issue of excuses. Certainly there are legitimate excuses, such as illness, a mother taking care of an infant, financial hardship, or students who can’t miss classes. One blog, which I won’t name, offered advice on ways to get out of serving on a particular jury. Some were disqualifiers the attorneys would see as legitimate, such as having a brother-in-law who’s a DEA agent or having had an experience similar to the one in that case. Others, not so much—acting way too eager to serve or being an expert on the issue.
Some people have used creative excuses that haven’t let them off the jury hook. A couple of newspaper blogs listed these: A woman who couldn’t report because she couldn’t leave her dog at home; he’d bark all day and disturb the neighbors. A man who said they wouldn’t want him because he was “way too opinionated.” Another who called and said he couldn’t serve because he was blind. He couldn’t have someone fill out the form for him because his friends “could read but none of them could write.”
And … “I have a lot going on in my personal life and just can’t concentrate.”
The pièce de résistance: A woman who claimed she’d been a murder victim herself and couldn’t sit in judgment on a homicide case. Well, yes, she’d “gotten better, but still…”
Back to legitimate excuses, here’s an obviously disqualifying one. In Boston, a few years ago, Sal Esposito was called to jury duty. Only one problem—Sal is a cat. On the 2010 census, Sal’s owners had listed him as a member of the household. After they recovered from their shock, they filed the form to have Sal disqualified on th grounds “he is unable to speak and understand English.” They even included a letter from the veterinarian. The court rejected the request. A less than full command of English was not a valid excuse, the rejection said. I could find no information on whether Sal ever reported to court. His verdict: Meow.
Does anyone have advice for me about jury duty?
You must move to Beverly Hills! We had such juicy cases that everyone would pay to be called to jury duty. So many were movie stars that autographs had to be restricted to lawyers and judges. I suspect only movie stars and the very elderly can be released from such duty, but how old would you be to want to avoid such “fun”?
Oh, Marjorie, you made me snort my coffee. If only the cases here would be as interesting as in Beverly Hills.
I’ve never been called to jury duty, but I think it would be a fun experience. Even if the court case was humdrum, just getting a peek at the inner workings of the justice system would be interesting. My mom sat for hours in the gallery at a murder trial, listening to motions for this and that, and found it more exciting than daytime TV, hehe.
A murder trial would be interesting, for sure, Grace. At least parts of it. I wonder what prompted your mom to attend that trial…
Serve on a jury if you can. I have been called many times, served twice. One civil, one criminal. As a mystery/crime writer the experience is valuable. Of course you need to be chosen for a good trial. My rape case (as a juror) was fun, and educational. I learned much about juror interaction, about the DNA sampling and reporting process, police procedures (actual small town, not TV), and courtroom procedure. Also enlightening are: watching gallery reactions, juror behavior, the judge’s demeanor, witness testimony, etc. However, I don’t know if I was a good juror. The civil case was declared a mistrial. In the rape case we were 6 vs 6, a hung jury. Good luck, Susan.
Thanks, Mike, for all the advice. Now you have me all excited about taking notes to use in a later book.
Love the blog. I’ve been called numerous times…but have only served on a jury once. An assault case…against a cop. The interesting part was that the rest of the jury had their minds made up before they even got into the jury room. I declined to serve on one jury because they told us it would take at least three weeks and if we couldn’t spare that much time to say so. Also, it was about a child abuse case with twins only a few months old who had horrid injuries. I don’t think I could be objective on that. No advice here…other than, if you have time, it’s an interesting experience. If not, you could always respond with a meow!
Meow, Linda. LOL. Three weeks would be a long time to sit in a jury. Amazing the attorneys chose jurors who already had their minds made up. Not supposed to happen. Wow.
I’ve been called several times & usually defense attorneys don’t want me. But I was selected for a jury one day last spring. It was a good experience & I’m glad I did it.
Hmm, Mary Anne, I’m wondering why defense attorneys wouldn’t want you.
How old was Sal when he was served? If he was under eighteen he couldn’t be a juror because he would be a minor. If he was over eighteen he couldn’t be a juror because he would be a senior citizen. Because HE’S A CAT.
(Great post, and good luck with your jury duty!)
Lily, you know the news coverage didn’t say how old Sal was. But about senior citizens, the court letter said people over 80 could be excused if they wanted, but could serve if they wanted. Maybe some states have other laws about that. Glad you enjoyed my post.
I don’t have any advice for jury duty. I haven’t been called on as of yet. Funny story though, my son moved to Florida and within the first 6 months was called to jury duty. We have relatives that have lived there for years and never been called. Good luck. I hope you get an interesting case that may lead to some great story ideas.
Brenna, yes, I know people who’ve never been called, and here I am the third time. I hope you get called eventually.
I served on a jury once. A tragic case involving the accusation of molestation. We weren’t able to convict. The evidence wasn’t there. But it was obvious no matter what had happened, it had torn a family apart.
The judge, prosecutor and defense attorney talked, and then pointed to me and said, “You’re the foreman.” I’m sure it’s because it said executive or manager or something like that on my form.
Anyway, I was never so impressed in my life as I was with my fellow jurors. People from all walks of life who took their responsibilities seriously, listened carefully, processed rationally and discussed openly while working our way to the verdict.
Barb, it sounds like an enriching experience. Reasonable people striving to reach a fair conclusion. Quite different from Linda’s fellow jurors.
I’ve been called a few times, but never chosen to actually serve on a jury. As soon as they find out you’re married to a police officer [even if he’s retired], no one seems to want you on their jury . . . .
Gee, Joan, I can’t imagine why. Thanks for your comment.
Great post, Susan. I say if you can swing the time, go for it. It is wonderful research. I served the first time I was called–many years ago–credit card theft. They had the woman dead to rights! But she had a small child at home and no one to care for the kid. I believe we ended up giving her probation, hoping that would encourage her to get her life together. Sat in a trial in family court where I thought I’d have to testify. I’d been served because I was the child’s principal. Ultimately they settled, but it was fascinating! You go, girl. and tell us about the experience later. 🙂 Happy Thanksgiving all y’all Mainers!
Susan, I laughed my way through your post. My fav excuse was the cat. 🙂 I’ve never been called for juror duty, but it would certainly be interesting.