My Day In and Out of the Jury Box

My Day In and Out of the Jury Box

12 Angry Men

That was … interesting. I had jury duty on Monday in a district court. It’s my third time in the past 15 years or so and in none of them was I actually impaneled.

I arrived at the courthouse at 8:30am as per the instructions and we were ushered into a small library with room for about 25 people. We first watched a nice politically correct film about the jury system and how it used to exclude women and minorities, which might be interesting in an academic setting, but seemed irrelevant from a practical standpoint.

After the movie (shown on a tiny 15” screen to a roomful of people by the way), we got a half-hour break from 9:30 to 10:00. We were told that there was a high-profile arraignment in the courthouse that day, four teens accused of shooting a 21-year-old the day before, and that while we wouldn’t be called for that case, we should avoid it.

Let me add that the conditions for the juror pool were less than ideal. Defendants and lawyers milled around the open door to the jury room, discussing their cases. We used the same bathrooms as the defendants and those there for the cases as well, potentially tainting the juror pool. We also had no access to any kind of refreshments, such as vending machines or even water. There may have been some in the building but no one told us and the court officer in charge of us was gone for hours at a time.

Back to the arraignment: At one point a giant commotion broke out and we heard yells and screams and saw officers running past our door. Outside we heard sirens and saw police cars streaming to the courthouse. It turns out there was a brawl in the courtroom where the arraignment took place, between friends of family of the victim and defendants. It even spilled out into the parking lot outside our window.

So after that little excitement everything quieted down and we sat and waited. And waited. Noon came and went. Then so did 1pm and no one came around to check on us or tells us we could break for lunch. This started to be a problem for me. As a diabetic, I’m not supposed to let my blood sugar drop too low nor am I supposed to let myself get dehydrated. I had decided to see if I could find a court officer about it when he came back and gave us a choice: A judge wanted to impanel a jury. We could go now and get it over with or we could take an hour for lunch and come back for impanelment. The vast majority of people said: “Now!” and since we were told it would take about 30 minutes, I went along with it. I could last another 30 minutes.

Jury selection is an interesting process. Keep in mind that Massachusetts has a one-day/one-trial system. When called for jury duty you must serve only one day waiting for a trial. If you don’t get impaneled, your duty is done. If you are impaneled, you serve until the end of the trial and then you’re done. First, the first 15 people were sat in the jury box. Then the judge introduced us to the defendant, the lawyers, the witnesses, and the alleged victims and then told us she expected the trial to take 3 days. After that she asked a series of questions related to our ability to serve. Those answered in the affirmative we called up to discuss it with the judge in the presence of the lawyers. The jurors were either returned to the jury box or sent to sit in the courtroom with the rest of us.

After the judge’s questioned were dealt with the lawyers were able to challenge for cause. One by one the original panel were called to the bench and then dismissed. At one point, I was called up to sit in the jury box and then called before the judge. I was asked about something on my jury questionnaire, an incident when I was 20 where I was charged in a court in Maine for a driving-related offense although the charge was later dropped. She asked if this would render me unable to be impartial. I said no. Then she asked if my employment by the Archdiocese of Boston would make me unable to be impartial. I said no again. I could see where they were going with this: Was I inclined to be forgiving of a “youthful indiscretion” because of my background and supposed bleeding-heart ways? I’m sure it was the prosecutor who asked for me to be dismissed.

Eventually, every one of the original jurors was replaced by new jurors and after about an hour or so in the courtroom we were eventually sent home with an apology from the court officer and encouragement to complain to the jury commissioner about conditions we were subjected to.

So, that was my third experience of jury duty. I’m now 0 for 3 in getting on a jury and twice I’ve been challenged for cause by one of the lawyers. It was a long day, but I did my duty and will do it again if called. I’ll just remember to bring snacks next time.

Photo by

Written by
Domenico Bettinelli