The Dim-Post

August 16, 2013

The magic of jury duty

Filed under: crime — danylmc @ 8:23 am

I’d never been called for jury duty until this week. I always found it frustrating when friends and co-workers got selected and ducked out of it, getting their employers to write letters insisting they were invaluable and couldn’t be spared. Didn’t they want to do their civic duty? And, more excitingly, didn’t they want to sit in on an actual criminal trial? See what really went on? Glean that insight into society and the justice system?

Now I get it. Like most of the people who rolled up to Wellington District Court on Monday morning I didn’t actually do any civic duty or glean any insights. What most of us got to do was sit in a room on the third floor of the building, waiting. For hours. We got to do the same thing on Wednesday. Thursday was actually pretty quick. We only waited around for about an hour. Fortunately I wasn’t part of the cohort that got balloted on Wednesday and waited around all day for a trial that got cancelled.

A couple of weeks ago I thought the guy who a judge found in contempt for refusing to serve on a jury sounded like a douche-bag. Now I kinda see his point. The process does seem designed to inconvenience you as much as possible. Will you be called to appear at court the next day? They don’t tell you until after six o’clock when its too late to reschedule anything. If you appear and aren’t balloted can you just leave and go on with your day? Well, on Thursday we did, but on Wednesday they kept us at the court for an extra two hours for no apparent reason. Could I pick up my daughter from creche if I was selected for a jury? What time would the court adjourn for the day? Should my wife cancel all her late meetings so she could do it? No way to know. When would I know? No way to know that, either. That’s the magic of jury duty!

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39 Comments »

  1. Well, on Thursday we did, but on Wednesday they kept us at the court for an extra two hours for no apparent reason.

    There’s a reason why they can’t tell you: it’s because you might have to be on the jury.

    There are a number of possibilities, but one possibility is that there was a defendant who was considering pleading guilty, who ulitmately did plead guilty. It may have relied on a sentencing indication. But until the defendant actually does plead guilty, it’s possible the jury will be needed. But if they tell you “the defendant is thinking of pleading guilty if they offer a low enough sentence, or drop charge X” and that doesn’t happen, then any jury is gonna know the offending has basically been admitted, and perhaps convict on that basis.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — August 16, 2013 @ 8:36 am

  2. If you want to sit in on an actual criminal trial, they’re usually open to the public. Although one of the things being in real-life court tells you is that at least 3/4 of it is really boring, and none of it is anything like what you’ve seen on TV. Watching the lawyers from opposite sides joke around with each other and make fun of the witnesses during the breaks is kind of interesting though.

    Comment by helenalex — August 16, 2013 @ 8:47 am

  3. I’m not sure what other DimPosters experiences have been, whilst I found the trial process interesting, being periodically shut in a room with strangers – half of whom appear to be there for the tea and gingernuts, loudly and repeatedly opining about what a jolly inconvenience it all was – did not meet my idea of civic minded folk, conscious of their duty to faithfully render an impartial verdict.

    Comment by Gregor W — August 16, 2013 @ 9:16 am

  4. What Graeme said but what he didn’t say (you know the joke about lawyers and sharks) is that the various lawyers will have been dicking about to get the best deal for their clients. Very rarely does a defendant think about pleading guilty rather their lawyer will consider it if he can get a deal
    Every time I have to appear in Court the List shrinks at the last minute as this game is played out

    Comment by rayinnz — August 16, 2013 @ 9:21 am

  5. Enduring that boredom though. all the tedium and chaos in your personal life, that is part of your civic duty though. Your civic duty doesn’t just encompass the gritty, interesting bit of figuring out whose guilty, it includes taking some time out when you aren’t going to be able to plan. Inconvenient, yes, but that’s not the point,

    Sure, there are probably ways it could be done better and it would be nice if someone was looking at ways of improving the system. The system we have though works enough though, and the sacrifice that is required is minimal and rare, such that when people gripe about being inconvenienced for a week, I have exactly no sympathy for them. And I’ve been called twice in the past 10 years, wasted probably a week and a half, neither time being selected for a jury.

    Everyone talks about the rights of a citizen. As well we should so as to safe guard them. Bugger all people talk about the corresponding duties of a citizen.

    Comment by Ben — August 16, 2013 @ 9:22 am

  6. You know, voting is such a chore. I mean, I have to PLAN to be in my electorate that day, or if I am not jump through these amazingly smooth little hoops to make sure I cast my vote. Such a chore, I can kinda see the point of those people who don’t vote and just wish the country was run by a committee of competent businessmen. I mean, have you spoken to an average voter? honestly. /sarcasm/

    Are you really so important and busy that you can’t suspend your life for a week to be on jury service? Really?

    Personally, I think there should be zero (or near enough to zero as we can get) exemptions from jury service. Employers shouldn’t get the choice to say how valuable you are to help you both shirk your civic duty.It is a duty you have to perform maybe once or twice in your life. Except it is not a duty. it is an exercise in the devolution of state power to the people, an example of democracy in action – that is, trusting the common sense of the common weal over the parade of experts and technocrats and professionals who constantly presume to tell us what to do.

    So FFS. It is week out of your life to do something that provides an important bulwark of liberty against the exercise of arbitrary power by the state. Enjoy it, even the sitting about bit. Enjoy the opportunity to sit somewhere and do nothing for a reason. It is actually quite liberating to be free for a day from the Protestant guilt of feeling you have to be doing something useful, all the time, in that way we confuse being busy with being successful. It is relaxing, almost meditation like once you grasp tthat.

    Comment by Sanctuary — August 16, 2013 @ 9:50 am

  7. You would have probably been challenged anyway, especially if they recognised your name.

    “It’s that satirist who insulted Colin Craig! I’m not going to have his liberal agenda on my jury”, “My defendant comes from the Aro Valley, there’s some likely bias there” etc.

    Comment by Auto_Immune — August 16, 2013 @ 10:14 am

  8. The problem is that criminal trials are an almost perfect storm of foreseeable but virtually inescapable potential problems.

    (1) The subject of the process (the defendant) has a purely discretionary choice to either go to trial or to plead guilty – which, as Graeme has pointed out, often is not exercised until the last minute.

    (2) The subject of the process has to be there in order to allow the trial to proceed – and almost by definition, criminal defendants are not the most reliable and punctual of individuals.

    (3) The supporting cast (lawyers on both sides) have to be there in order to allow the trial to proceed – and not only are they human (thus are susceptible to things like illness, etc), but they often have more than one commitment time wise … so if another trial they are involved in runs long, then they can’t be in two places at once.

    (4) You can only have one trial in each courtroom at any given time – and if one trial runs long, then that means the next one can’t start, and so the new jury needed for it can’t be empanelled.

    (5) The whole performance is overseen by a figure whose every whim is (literally) law … so if a judge thinks the court needs to knock off early because she or he has a lot of judgments to write (or an opera show to get to), then that is what happens irregardless of how it messes with the next day’s workload.

    Now, I’m sure the fact that potential jury members have zero power in the scheduling process – they are there by compulsion, so can’t rebel and refuse to participate unless they are treated properly (at least, not without paying a penalty) – means that they are pretty much ignored. But equally, I don’t think the process is set up just to mess with people’s lives.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — August 16, 2013 @ 10:14 am

  9. To be honest, if voting meant you had to spend a week showing up at the polling booth and waiting around for a couple hours to find out if you could vote that day, I probably wouldn’t vote. It’s not that I’m important, but busy. Yes. And it would be nice to spend a week just chillin’ out, not caring whether my daughter got home at the end of the day, but that’s not really an option.

    Comment by danylmc — August 16, 2013 @ 10:14 am

  10. You should be able to refuse to be on a jury. Many people have family commitments and work commitments. I’m not saying that jury duty should be reserved for those with nothing better to do with their time but I think more allowances need to be made.

    Comment by Daniel Lang — August 16, 2013 @ 10:15 am

  11. Are you really so important and busy that you can’t suspend your life for a week to be on jury service? Really?

    Is this what Danyl’s saying? I took him to be saying that he was happy to give up the week, but would like it if there could have been a bit more information given as to what was required of him so that he could minimise the impact on his life.

    Now, maybe he really couldn’t have been given that information, because either it wasn’t available (or because of reasons like Graeme alludes to in the first comment). But it’s not that unreasonable to point out that people might feel a bit better about doing their civic duty if they are treated like people and not units to be shuffled onto the jury bench as and when the system requires them.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — August 16, 2013 @ 10:22 am

  12. And it would be nice to spend a week just chillin’ out, not caring whether my daughter got home at the end of the day, but that’s not really an option.

    Because … ?

    Bloody helicopter parents.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — August 16, 2013 @ 10:24 am

  13. The one time I was called for jury duty I suspected I might be preganant but it was too early to take a test. A 12 week fraud case was scheduled to be heard along with some other shorter cases. I wondered if “I think I might be a few days preganant but I won’t know until next week” was a valid excuse to get out of jury duty? As it turned out I wasn’t selected for that case, I was indeed preganant, and a week or so later I did experience the disruption of needing to go for a pee every hour.

    Comment by MeToo — August 16, 2013 @ 10:39 am

  14. I got called a couple of weeks ago. Loved it. Yes I sat around for a couple of days, but I did get selected for a 3 day trial. The whole experience was fascinating. Watching the court at work, amazing at the incompetence of the crown lawyer, lively debates in the jury room, the whole thing was a blast.
    I can understand the frustration of hanging around for nothing. However if you want to live in a participatory democracy, a few days inconvenience out of lifetime shouldn’t be too much to ask.
    Especially as our current govt seems hell bent on reducing our freedoms, you really want to be shut out of any type of “democracy?”

    Comment by northshoreguynz — August 16, 2013 @ 10:57 am

  15. Lively debates? You lucky sod! I got old women who treated the whole thing like a soap opera and preferred to gossip about whether the witness who was called but didn’t appear was secretly having an affair with another witness, or the accused.

    Comment by JBGoode — August 16, 2013 @ 11:17 am

  16. “…And it would be nice to spend a week just chillin’ out, not caring whether my daughter got home at the end of the day, but that’s not really an option…”

    Oh yes I forgot about that. Sorry.

    Anyway, I am going to set up my apple crate, climb atop it, and tell you all of one of my “King for a day” ideas. It is to use our otherwise largely empty on the weekend schools to run juries made up of locals (for areas roughly aligned with the local boards in Auckland, for example) every Saturday morning to hear summary offenses cases for general anti-social behaviour (pan-handling, public nuisances, drunkeness, noise complaints, grafitti, littering, sly-grogging, painting your house a loud colour, etc etc etc). The idea would be to clear the previous weeks cases in a day. The justice would not be perfect (knowing the accused would not disqualify you), but it would be swift and summary.

    The juries could have someone like a JP in charge and a legal beagle of some sort to guide them on general points of law and sentencing, and they would be unable to sentence to a period of imprisonment longer than, say, five days. They could levy fines up to a small amount and proscribe novel punishments. Anyone convicted and sentenced by my local juries would have all records wiped three years after the conviction. The jury could decline to rule, and pass it up to the district court if they thought the crime warranted it.

    Thank you for listening. *picks up crate*

    Comment by Sanctuary — August 16, 2013 @ 11:43 am

  17. The subject of the process has to be there in order to allow the trial to proceed

    Well, that one’s not true. Although I suppose it might explain a couple of hours delay.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — August 16, 2013 @ 11:55 am

  18. @Ben: “The system we have though works enough though, and the sacrifice that is required is minimal and rare, such that when people gripe about being inconvenienced for a week, I have exactly no sympathy for them.”

    I accept the need to do the civic duty thing, and I was looking forward to it when I was first called, but I think I would have appreciated it more if we’d been treated like actual real people on the Monday morning, like being thanked for showing up and everything, instead of just being shunted into an over-crowded room and left to rot for hours. My impression in hindsight was rather like Danyl’s. I was never selected for a case, but everything leading up to it (in the Wellington District Court) was like being pushed through a processing centre where we were treated like morons who didn’t matter simply because we had to be there. Are all courts like this, or only the larger ones?

    @Sanc: “Are you really so important and busy that you can’t suspend your life for a week to be on jury service? Really?”

    I was fortunate enough, at the time, to have an employer with a plan to continue full time salary for those called for jury service, and even then it was tricky to rearrange everything I was trying to work on to be flexible for being away for a week. I get how awkward it’d be for those who are self-employed or working in smaller businesses which haven’t yet thought to budget for staff being called away for jury service. Even with notice, it’s a whole week of work time messed up and possibly completely lost. If it’s going to be marginally fairer, I don’t think it’d hurt to legislate that employers need to allow their employees to attend jury service on full pay, in the same way they’re required to allow for sick leave and annual leave. Maybe enable employers to protest if they’ve had more than X% of their employees pulled away within a fixed period.

    Comment by izogi — August 16, 2013 @ 11:59 am

  19. I’ve been on a jury once, and it made me determined to go with a judge-alone trial if I ever found myself in immense trouble. A good half of the jury members were happy to go along with whatever everyone else wanted because they either didn’t want to make a decision or just wanted to get out of there.

    Comment by Ataahua — August 16, 2013 @ 12:26 pm

  20. I’ve been on a jury a few times and generally found the experience very interesting. There’s been a bit of bureaucratic faff and time wasting, but not too much.

    Tip for beginners: nominate yourself as foreperson. It’s kind of exciting getting up to give the verdicts at the end of the trial. :)

    Comment by Thomas Beagle (@thomasbeagle) — August 16, 2013 @ 12:26 pm

  21. @Ataahua, I gathered from the court officers that that seems to be the norm. Our jury was a exception, possibly because it was during the school holidays.4 of us were teachers. The defence counsel did remark they get more questions from the jury during school holidays.

    Comment by northshoreguynz — August 16, 2013 @ 12:51 pm

  22. A few years ago I had jury Duty at the District Court in Wellington. Was there for the first call every day, got challenged every time (looked like a hippie then) so just went around the corner to the Occidental and got all liquored up on the taxpayers dime while having a paid week off work. It was Glorious.

    Comment by Warren C — August 16, 2013 @ 1:30 pm

  23. I’ve always managed to deliberately avoid jury service for several decades – easiest way, don’t get on the electoral role ( small crime, unlikely to be caught ).

    I have no wish to sit on a jury, nor do I see it as duty. I suspect I’m not alone, as there doesn’t seem to be glut of jurors. In my experience, in some locations people get picked more frequently, eg Wellington Central.

    I also object to process whereby various lawyers get to decide whether people are suitable jurors. Partially negates the random nature of the process.

    The system should be reformed, perhaps allowing all of those people who aspired to, but never attained, school prefect/classroom monitor status etc. to become professional jurors. Some people might even pay for the thrill of being a juror on a murder trial. The current system is expensive and slow.

    Comment by Bruce Hamilton — August 16, 2013 @ 5:04 pm

  24. @23 Not on the electrol roll, yet want to voice an opinion. How does that work?

    Comment by Northshoreguynz — August 16, 2013 @ 5:19 pm

  25. NSG, if I don’t vote, then I’m entitled to whine about all politicians, as I didn’t vote any of them in. In reality, I didn’t really like many of the choices, so why encourage them?. I’m now on the electoral role, and even voted last time, but it’s more about punishing some candidates.

    Political discussion was invented to help cure insomniacs, and perhaps democracy isn’t the most effective form of governance.

    Comment by Bruce Hamilton — August 16, 2013 @ 5:35 pm

  26. Political discussion was invented to help cure insomniacs, and perhaps democracy isn’t the most effective form of governance.

    Alternatives? Egypt isn’t looking too flash at the moment.

    Also, you are entitled to whine about politicians. But why should we have to listen to you?

    Comment by Flashing Light — August 16, 2013 @ 7:52 pm

  27. if I don’t vote, then I’m entitled to whine about all politicians, as I didn’t vote any of them in.

    Have you ever considered putting yourself forward to do it yourself, if the choices being offered to you are so inadequate?

    I also object to process whereby various lawyers get to decide whether people are suitable jurors. Partially negates the random nature of the process.

    Same here, at least in some circumstances. There are times when you might believe a potential juror likely to be biased based on how foreign their name sounds or what shows up in google, or their occupation, or how scruffy they look, but sometimes it seems to be that they want people of a particular gender, or unlikely to properly understand a case. I guess people in the law profession would have better insight on this one, but I’m interested in why lawyers shouldn’t be able to challenge another lawyer’s challenge, and then require it to be argued in front of a judge as to why they’re not appropriate.

    Comment by izogi — August 16, 2013 @ 8:13 pm

  28. (1) The subject of the process (the defendant) has a purely discretionary choice to either go to trial or to plead guilty – which, as Graeme has pointed out, often is not exercised until the last minute.

    That ‘last minute’ thing sounds like it contributes to the all the problems, and it doesn’t seem that hard to solve.

    Comment by Roger Parkinson (@RogerParkinson) — August 17, 2013 @ 9:04 am

  29. “and perhaps democracy isn’t the most effective form of governance.”
    No, you’re right, we need some sort of knowledgeable elite who can guide our society. let’s just hope that eugenics doesn’t become fashionable again whilst they’re in charge. I assume your remark is flippant.

    “I also object to process whereby various lawyers get to decide whether people are suitable jurors. Partially negates the random nature of the process.”
    Don’t the lawyers have only 2 chances to “challenge”? Graeme, Andrew? It hardly seems that would give them the ability to “stack” the jury.

    I tried chewing gum and scowling, but I still got onto 2 juries and balloted for a third. I was impressed at how we all took it very seriously, once in DC, once in HC.

    “I don’t think it’d hurt to legislate that employers need to allow their employees to attend jury service on full pay, in the same way they’re required to allow for sick leave and annual leave.”
    Get fucked. How about the mount paid for jury service has some basis in reality, like at least being equal to the average wage.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — August 17, 2013 @ 4:04 pm

  30. “How about the mount paid for jury service has some basis in reality, like at least being equal to the average wage.”

    Yeah that’d be interesting. Stats NZ reports the 2012 median wage at about $800/week. If the 300,000 jurors who are summoned each year were paid an average wage for their week of inconvenience, it’d set the Ministry of Justice back by a top end of about $240 million. Probably much less, though, if jurors are only paid for the time they’re actually required to be present. One way or another, someone has to absorb the cost of randomly pulling people away from their regular day’s work whether it’s employers, jurors themselves, or taxpayers.

    Comment by izogi — August 17, 2013 @ 4:20 pm

  31. I’ll await the experts, but I think the lawyers may have 6 challenges each, and can also additionally challenge on grounds such physical disability. Also the defence lawyers can show their clients the list, including names and addresses during the week before the trial.

    Comment by Bruce Hamilton — August 17, 2013 @ 7:48 pm

  32. izogi, you are not paid for a week, just for the days you are there. If you don’t make it onto a jury, then that’s 2 days. Or are you suggesting that small businesses can afford $240 million better than the govt?

    Comment by Clunking Fist — August 18, 2013 @ 10:04 am

  33. Hi CF. As I indicated when I wrote it, it’s a an upper limit and obviously wouldn’t be as high as that. Probably closer to the mid-tens of millions per year, at a guess.

    But my original point was that business already required to pay for 4 weeks annual leave per year, 1 week sick leave per year, and potentially 14 weeks paid parental leave, plus miscellaneous other random things like public holidays and bereavement leave, for every employee. Structurally they’re in a better position than employees to stomach the cost of occasional jury service call-ups over which their employees have little choice. If they’re not prepared for it, they can justify to the Ministry of Justice why their employees should be exempt and then require their employees come to work instead.

    I agree that it’d also be useful for the government to offer a realistic jury salary, but the hit to the economy for providing jurors has to come from somewhere. We already put so many other leave obligations onto employers, and I don’t totally understand why jury service shouldn’t be following the same structure. It’s really just a thought, anyway.

    Comment by izogi — August 18, 2013 @ 11:26 am

  34. “Structurally they’re in a better position than employees to stomach the cost of occasional jury service ”
    Well, except for those businesses already running at a loss or close to. You speak like someone who has never run a business, or don’t know people that run businesses.

    “but the hit to the economy for providing jurors has to come from somewhere”
    On the other hand, the govt has the coercive power to tax, so, in theory, is unlikely to run out of money. And it’s already providing an amount ($45/day from memory, plus bus fares) so the hit is less. perhaps the money spent on the Families Commission could be used instead for jury duty.

    On the other hand, do you thick employers should take up the cost of medical insurance for employees and relieve taxpayers of that burden? No? Didn’t think so.
    Why should my local sole trader plumber have to pay the full whack for her sole employee to be away for 2 weeks jury duty, when it is a shared civic responsibility? Other civic responsibilities tend to be shared. Many govt charges are on a user-pays basis, but the employer isn’t the user of jury services, the accused is.
    (On the other hand, if I was a partner in a law firm, I’d think it funny that other employers are up for paying jury duty, whereas I’m only up for the risk of a few, non-lawyer, support staff. Bloody lawyers, getting off scot-free again, etc.)

    Comment by Clunking Fist — August 19, 2013 @ 9:18 am

  35. I agree with Danyl, and I’m not too impressed at being lectured on the need to shut up already about personal inconvenience, and to just enjoy ‘sitting around for a week’.
    As Danyl’s example showed, it’s not just a personal inconvenience, it involves the whole family and beyond. I’ve been called for jury dury in the next school holidays. What am I supposed to do with a school aged child over the school holidays? Leave them home alone? See if partner can take a week off work, thereby inconveniencing all his (tertiary) students? Ask my mother to cancel the overseas trip that she’s already booked? All for a situation where I may or may not be needed and won’t know until the last minute?

    Comment by Carol — August 19, 2013 @ 2:49 pm

  36. Hi Carol. This may be too late to help in your specific school holiday case, but had you realised that you’re allowed to apply to defer your jury duty to a later time within the next 12 months?

    “Your family needs you” is provided as an example of a possible reason for deferring or possible excusing, but I don’t know what the precedents for this are.

    Comment by izogi — August 19, 2013 @ 3:13 pm

  37. I now live far enough away from the city limits to be ineligible, but when I was a city dweller, I was called regularly. Generally, my employer wrote the “too indispensable” letter for me, but one time I decided that if everyone who was gainfully employed refused to go, then our country’s legal system was being defined by the unemployed and senior citizens, and maybe that wasn’t very representative of the population, and maybe I could add something useful, so I went. Never again.

    My experience was very similar to Danyl’s, just a very frustrating waste of time, and a feeling that it all could have been handled so much better, somehow. Never got to sit on any cases, called once, and immediately challenged.

    I came away feeling that professional juries would be more efficient, and in the case of things like complicated fraud trials, more just, because at least a professional jury might have an outside chance of actually understanding the issues involved.

    Comment by Helen — August 20, 2013 @ 11:40 am

  38. Thanks Izogi. Yes I noted that deferment on the summons papers. Even out of holiday time I would have issues. I’m self-employed, so would be taking a financial hit. And I stop work at 3:30 on school days to do all the after school activities. Who would cover this shift in my absence, particularly if extended days are involved? (see #35). The summons papers did note that childcare costs are claimable, but childcare can’t just be conjured out of thin air for an isolated week.

    Comment by Carol — August 20, 2013 @ 3:20 pm

  39. The current jury system is nothing short of retarded.

    Our court system is not called the justice lottery for nothing. I love it how it has an inbuilt selection bias so that everything possible is done to weed out the exact people you want on a jury

    I’ve yet to hear any compelling arguments against fulltime professional jurors.

    Comment by Vanilla Thrilla (@Vanilla_Thrilla) — August 23, 2013 @ 10:59 am


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