As I mentioned earlier, I received a summons for jury duty for today. And, it was almost fun (well, as fun as jury duty can be, I suppose). Before even getting there, my first decision was how to get there. Mike mentioned that I could make use of the free DART pass included with my summons and that was tempting. As I saw it, if I didn’t have to pay for parking, that meant I’d have more money left over from the jury check (all of six dollars, I know).
So, last night I went to the Trip Planner on DART’s site and typed in both my address and the address of the courthouse. The trip-planning software worked fine; it told me a valid route which would get me from my apartment to the courthouse in time for jury duty. Unfortunately, that trip would have taken just over an hour (yikes). I then checked MapQuest to see how long that would take to drive — and that reported about ”11 minutes”. Since I really didn’t feel like getting up in the middle of the night just to make it to court by 8:30am, I opted to drive.
I did leave a little early, knowing that rush hour would probably add to that “11 minutes”. But, I found the garage easily and got there in plenty of time. I went in through the main doors and, after passing through the metal detectors — which involved taking off my watch and emptying my pockets of my iPod, my Palm and my car keys — I headed to the central court room (or some room with a similar name). I handed in my information slip to someone at the door and walked in to the auditorium-like room. There were rows of movie theater-style collapsing seats and I sat down as they lowered a screen to play an informational video.
After the video, an official stepped up to the podium at the front of the room and explained the basic process for the day: they'd call out groups of numbers, corresponding to our juror numbers, and they'd send each group to a courtroom elsewhere in the building. Within the first few minutes, the group containing my number was called and we were sent to one of the courtrooms on the third floor. Once my group got there, a bailiff called role to make sure that we were all there; and, after that, we were asked to wait outside the courtroom. I deduced later that we were waiting for the lawyers to arrive and prepare.
After about half an hour of waiting, the bailiff took role again and called us into the courtroom by name (to ensure that we’d have a specific seating order). Once we filed in, the judge explained that we were here for a DWI case. He introduced the prosecuting and defense lawyers and explained that both the prosecution and the defense would each have a set of time to ask us questions.
From there, the prosecuting lawyer stood up and started by explaining the conditions which define DWI within the state of Texas. And, after that, she went around the room and asked us questions such as whether we trusted Breathalyzers and on what level we trusted police officers (on a 1-5 scale).
She finished her questions and the defense attorney began. Not surprisingly, he asked questions about whether we would feel comfortable finding someone guilty based on a single person’s testimony (which Texas law allows and, in this case, would most likely refer to the police officer). He also asked if any of us had been personally affected by a drunk driver in the past which would prevent an impartial perspective if we were to serve on the jury. He finished his questions within maybe 20 minutes and the judge dismissed us for a short break while the lawyers made their strike list. (A “strike list”, I presume, is the process where each side crossed of jurors which they would not like to appear on the jury.)
After our fifteen minute break, we found our seats again and, as it turns out, the lawyers were still making up their lists. But, within a few minutes, the bailiff (I think) read off the names of those chosen to serve on the jury; I wasn’t one of those names. Those of us not selected were dismissed and allowed to go home. So, that was my adventure with jury duty — I was expecting government’s usual red tape and bureaucracy but it actually went fairly smoothly.
Sure, there was some waiting involved — I got through a third of The Tipping Point — but we were always treated respectfully by the officials and they made sure to let us know how long each waiting period would be. I don’t know if I’d say it was a ton of fun, but it went a lot better than I expected.