Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A lesson in Civics?

As most of you know I live in Southern California and I have ALWAYS lived in California. Not knowing how other states work, I will explain the jury system in California.

It is your 'civic' duty to be summoned to report for jury duty once a year. I have been summoned multiple times - but this is the first time I heard what I heard today.

We all gather in a 'jury appointed waiting area' - sort of like a huge conference room. You have to check in and then they explain the happenings of the day.  I walked into the room and there was a board in the front that said:

Cases on docket today: 138

Cases requesting juries: 138

So I figured - no way I'm getting out of here without being called upon.
The jury people start talking and they let us know that althouogh there are that many cases, the very fact that jurors are assembled prompts most cases to be settled - today.  In fact, this particular court rarely sees more than 5% of the cases requiring a jury.

So we sat - had to report at 8:00
Got a break at 10:00 - no one had been called
Got dismissed for lunch at 11:30 - no one had been called.
Back at 1:00 and now the board looks like this:

Cases on docket today: 138

Cases requesting juries: 69

OK - I figured the afternoon should be fun.

2:00 we are asked to all assemble in the big room -
Cases on docket today: 138
Cases requesting juries: 11

one case has requested a jury ASAP.
Clerk calls out at least 60 names and they leave the room
the remainder of us (had to still be over 150 people there) were told to remain there until they heard further notice.

3:00 Clerk walks in and changes the bottom number to 0
She then thanks us for our service as it was because of us that all the other cases were settled.

OK - is it me or has something gone wrong here?
You are telling me that 138 cases got all the way to have a starting trial date and THEN they got settled?


  1. Wow! I've never heard of this kind of jury trial system before. Not only does it seem really strange, as you noted, that so many cases got to this point and then decide not to use juries, and it also strikes me as a huge waste of the taxpayers time (sitting there all day waiting) and money (since I assume you were each paid a small stipend for the day). Gotta be a better way of narrowing down those trials requiring juries before you all gather to hang out for the day. Sometimes you just gotta wonder who thinks up these ideas!!

  2. I think the process is (and remember I am Canadian) the evidence of the case (both sides) is presented before the Judge in a preliminary trial, which the accused is present at. Then they decided if there is sufficient evidence to go to trial and for what charges. A court date is set. It's at that point when the charges are read in court, that the Defendant has the choice of opting for trial by judge, or trial by jury. So, the court would not know until such time as the Defendant actually vocalizes his plea, and his preference in court. That's the only explanation I can think of. That maybe not all the cases that declined jury were "settled" - but some might have opted for trial by Judge. ???
    But, at least you have done your civic duty for the year. :)

  3. I live in Pennyslvania and recently had an almost identical experience. The only difference being that they held us until 4:00 before saying we could go home. I was excited about possibly being on a jury, but after that experience I have joined the ranks of those who will look for any reason to be excused from the whole process.


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