We all dread it. Jury Duty.
As Americans (not only Americans have this type of judicial system, but, since I am from the US, I am going to write this from my point of view) we all know that as we become adults, that this is probably an inevitable part of our lives. At some point, we may need the services of an impartial jury. Twelve people, just like us, that are there to decide the outcome of an event in our life. Be it a civil complaint, or, in the worst case, a criminal charge.
On the flip side of that, we may be called at some point to be one of those people in charge of making those decisions for one of our neighbors.
Either way, it is a part of our judicial system and we should be aware of what happens when we are called to serve.
Here, I will share with you my personal experience with being called for Jury Duty and my own tips on how to prepare if you are called to perform your civic duty.
When I first got my summons, I was pretty apprehensive. I saw it as an inconvenience, and I was totally dreading it. I am 38, and somehow, I have avoided this up to this point.
The next thing I did was cuss the political weather that we are experiencing in this country at the current time, because, in light of this, I had just registered to vote for the first time in my life in order to vote in the upcoming Midterm Elections, and I was under the impression that the Jury Duty Lottery pool was drawn out of the registered voter pool. I learned today in the courthouse that is in fact, a falsity. In my county, potential jurors are pulled out of a pool consisting of not only registered voters, but also, any county resident holding a current Driver’s License, or State ID card.
This brings me to my first piece of advice about preparing yourself.
1.) Get all your negative thoughts about this summons out of your head, get a good night’s sleep, and wake up the morning of the day you are to appear with an open mind, and a positive attitude.
At the very least, you are going to go in there, sit for a while, and get excused, without even talking to a judge. While you are in there, you are going to learn about some of the things that make the judicial system in your area unique. For example. I learned that my county has two courthouses. This is because our county seat has changed from one city to another since the 1800s and due to certain census and geographical reasons, they deemed it better to keep both instead of doing away with the original in order to make way for the newer, larger venue.
Go into the day looking to soak in new knowledge about the place you live in.
2.) Eat a good breakfast. Once you are in the courthouse, there will only be vending machines if there are anything at all. My courthouse provided coffee, tea, and hot chocolate in the jury room. Since you are probably going to be there all day, you want to make sure you have a full belly to last you until lunch break, which will be the only time you are able to leave the courthouse long enough to grab a meal.
3.) Pack a lunch. For those of you on a budget, this is crucial. There are usually going to be restaurants and pubs close by, but, remember, you are only getting a small per diem for your service, which probably doesn’t amount to what you would have made at your job that day. Pack yourself a snack and a lunch to avoid having to leave and spend your hard earned cash on a meal that you wouldn’t have gone to get had you not been in this situation. NOTE. Do NOT pack a metal fork with your lunch, you will be asked to surrender it at the security checkpoint upon entering the courthouse. More on security checks later.
4.) Check the weather. If you are a smoker, or if you are taking public transportation, this is especially important. You could be in there for up to or even longer than 12 hours, and as we all know, weather can change on a dime. I simply packed a compact umbrella into my bag in case I got caught in the rain, and I brought along my pea coat since it’s getting chilly this time of year.
5.) Dress for the occasion. Rule of thumb is business casual. You are there to preform a duty, not to command attention. I suggest neutral colors. Personally, I wore a pair of stretchy black slacks, a sensible shirt, and comfortable, low heel boots. If you are wearing a thin or short sleeve shirt, bring a cardigan. It can get chilly inside the courthouse, and even if you wore a coat, it’s best to have a sweater you can take off or put on to keep you comfortable. You will be in a room with a lot of people while you wait, and you will most likely want to have a few options depending on the room temp.
6.) Plan your route. Many of you may find that your courthouse is in a city or area that you are unfamiliar with. This step is even more important if you need to use public transportation to get to your destination. Remember to allot extra time in the morning to get ready, outside of travel time. I was fortunate, and my husband was able to take some PTO from work to take me to the courthouse since didn’t want to pay to park a car there, but if I would have needed to take the bus, I would have been looking at 2 hours in travel time. Be prepared, so you are not late. If you fail to appear, a bench warrant could be issued for your arrest. If you are able to drive yourself, be aware of parking situations, and any ramp fees if applicable. Bring cash for parking, as some ramps do not accept credit or debit cards.
7.) Bring something to keep you busy. My county courthouse had WiFi available in the jury room and we were allowed to bring laptops, kindles, and cellphones in there and use them as desired. I did not know this prior to going, so I brought a book. Check with your local courthouse to see if electronics are allowed and if WiFi is provided before you just assume that you can go in there and surf the net, but whatever you do, bring something that you can use to keep you busy while you wait.
8.) Be prepared to go through a security check. Keep metal embellishments, and jewelry to a minimum, and leave things like knitting needles, pocket knives, and pepper spray at home or in your vehicle. If you attempt to bring these things through the checkpoint, they could be taken from you and you will not get them back. I am sure this goes without saying, but do not bring any drugs, alcohol, or weapons with you to the courthouse. What I did, was I chose an empty hobo bag that I had laying around, and transferred my wallet, keys, and lipstick from my normal purse into it and called it a day. That way, I knew that there was no surprise items I was unknowingly bringing with me into the courthouse.
9.) Be open to meeting people. There are going to be a whole lot of people in that room with you, most of them don’t want to be there, just like you. Talk to your neighbor. You may just make a friend, or at least hear something interesting!
10.) Take something away with you. There are many things that you can get from this experience. You may learn something new about your community and its judicial system. You may get a chance to make a decision that will impact the lives of many. Only you can decide what you lose or gain out of a situation. Choose to get something out of it, that way, it’s not a wasted day, instead, it’s a field trip!
I hope you enjoyed this, and if you are getting ready to appear for jury duty, that this helped you to feel more comfortable about the process and what you need to do!
Thanks for reading!