I found myself in a jury waiting room last week. It’s a good thing, too. A jury duty summons is not something you want to ignore. I mean, it’s been a while since I read up on what the penalty is for contempt of court, but I’m pretty sure you’re sentenced to be the judge’s butler or something. With this in mind, I went to court.
sidebar: At the risk of perpetuating some unsavory stereotypes about law students, I have to say that one of my favorite parts about going to court is telling people that I’m going to court. Technically, this time it was as a juror, not even in the pseudo-lawyerly capacity that I do for work. But it’s still pretty cool to tell civilians that you had to go to court.
First, I showed up at the New York State Supreme Courthouse in Kings County about ten minutes before the time printed on my summons. As it turns out, that was a mistake. Apparently, New York State (rightly) assumes that most people will show up late, so they print a time on the summons that’s actually thirty minutes early.
When someone did show up, it was a rather genial clerk wearing a bright pink halter top dress. I only note that because the jury duty summons specifically requested I show my respect for the proceedings by dressing respectfully. As I’d spent the bulk of my commute sweltering in a shirt and tie, I was almost jealous. Many people just wore t-shirts and jeans.
The first thing we did was watch a hilariously awful juror orientation video with Ed Bradley and Diane Sawyer. It was done at some point in the 90s, but everyone involved had 80s hair. The video kicked off by describing the process of “Trial by Ordeal” that was used in barbaric times to determine a defendant’s guilt. Then someone made a grim joke about jury duty being as painful a process as sticking your arms into boiling water, and the point was thoroughly missed.
Now, you’re probably saying to yourself “but Dominic, you’re a student and an intern with the government! Why do you not ride out of jury duty on a litter borne by twenty burly eunuchs?” And this is a fair question, although it does seem a little outdated. I mean, eunuch-borne litter hasn’t been a popular mode of travel since like the 1960s.
Apparently, New York has drastically reduced the amount of exemptions, deferrals, and generic “Get Out of ‘Sending Someone to Jail’ Free Cards” in the last few years. Being a student no longer gets you removed from jury duty. Nor does “accidentally” parking in the judge’s parking spot. I assume flat-out claiming to be an unabashed racist still works, but nobody played that gambit while I was in court.
Because fewer people get out of it, more people serve. Because more people serve, people get called fewer times. The end result is that no citizen of New York State is required to serve jury duty more than once every eight years.