I was never summoned for jury duty while living 30+ years in Lancaster, PA.
Eight years living in Atlantic County, NJ, and the municipality summoned me twice, the first time as a petit juror. I looked forward to the opportunity to sit on a jury, observe and decide an exciting case – maybe a homicide that made the local and regional papers and possibly national news. Or a financial trial involving a Bernie Madoff-type financial swindler. Or perhaps a case of any kind involving a famous person.
I sat on a personal injury case. The trial lasted two days before lawyers settled out of court. My jury experience concluded.
A couple of months ago an official-looking letter arrived in the mail. Most of my mail nowadays is junk mail. A real letter, official or otherwise, rarely appears in my box. The letter summoned me to court as a prospective grand juror. But before my court appearance I needed to fill out an online questionnaire.
The questions set a high bar (note the legal lingo):
Am I over 18 years of age? A no-brainer for this senior.
Am I a U.S. citizen? As far as I know. My birth certificate proves my existence began in a hospital in New Jersey. Unfortunately the hospital no longer exists, so if anyone questions the authenticity of the document I may be in trouble. But I don’t think I should worry. I am not going to run for President (of anything).
Can I understand and read English? No problem, most of the time. Sometimes I have trouble understanding my 2-year-old granddaughter. And the accents of actors in British films throw me. But I don’t think there will be many cases involving individuals with British accents in south Jersey.
Am I a resident of the county in which I am to serve? The exorbitant checks written for property taxes, the ticket received – one time only – because I forgot to move my car on street cleaning day, my addiction to local pizza and bagels, plus the junk mail accumulated in my name at my address are proof positive I reside in the county.
Have I “been convicted of any indictable offense under the laws of this State another State or the United States”? Definitely a no, and a search of all records will result in nothing.
The court wants to ensure that I “shall not have any mental or physical disability which will prevent the person from properly serving as a juror”? I would say no, although I cannot guarantee all my family, friends, and acquaintances would agree with me.
I passed the test. The next step was to show up in Criminal Court.
The decorum in the courtroom impressed me. Over 100 people sitting quietly, no one squirming or whispering, cell phone use banned, nothing to do but wait. The judge asked if anyone had a reason they could not serve on a jury. People raised their hand and one by one approached the bench. The judge and the individual had a heart-to-heart. Sometimes the person left the courtroom, sometimes returned to their seat, their excuse not compelling enough to sway the judge.
Once everyone hoping to be excused spoke with the judge, court employees conducted orientation, the main part a PowerPoint presentation on the crimes a grand jury may deal with – burglary, theft, domestic abuse, assault, homicide, financial fraud, arson…
We were sent home with instructions to report the following week. I will serve as a Grand Juror one day a week during May and June.
So what does a Grand Jury do? A prosecutor presents a case. The grand jury decides whether the case should go to trial. Or not.
I get paid $5 a day.