Jury Duty? Pick Me!

by Kerry Dougherty

Maybe it’s because I once covered courts for The Virginian-Pilot and always wondered what went on behind those closed jury doors. Perhaps it’s because one of my favorite movies is the 1957 classic, “Twelve Angry Men.” I suppose it could be because I read too many John Grisham novels.

Whatever the reason, I’ve always wanted to serve on a jury.

I had a shot last year when I was summoned to federal court. I couldn’t wait to hear evidence in a big drug, wire fraud or racketeering case in the Walter E. Hoffman U.S. Courthouse in Norfolk, within spitting distance of the old Virginian-Pilot building where I worked for 33 years.

I phoned the courthouse number at the appointed times week after week and was never needed.

The same thing happened a few years ago in Virginia Beach.

Apparently Norfolk residents are not nearly so eager to serve. One week into the resumption of trials in Norfolk Circuit Court and almost no one is showing up for jury duty. According to The Virginian-Pilot, 90% of those summoned for duty this week were no-shows.

They call it “serving” on a jury for a reason. It’s the way ordinary Americans get to take part in government.

Norfolk’s Circuit Court was among the first in the commonwealth to win the approval of the Virginia Supreme Court to resume holding trials under new COVID guidelines.

The Pilot reports that the first Norfolk trial to get underway was that of Dajuan May-Daily this week who’s been charged with nine felonies in connection with the shooting death of Rodney Epps on July 1, 2019.

According to the paper, the court summoned 240 potential jurors for his trial this week. On Monday, 25 showed up. That wasn’t enough, so another 90 were called on Tuesday. Five of those managed to make it.

That gave the lawyers a bare minimum of bodies from which to pick a jury. Not good.

Norfolk has had a problem with no-show jurors for years. It was remedied three years ago when sheriff’s deputies began hand-delivering summonses for jury duty rather than sending them through the mail. Oh, and judges began fining the scofflaws, which also got the attention of the public. Even with those measures, only about 70% of those summoned bothered to appear.

This COVID hiatus set everything back.

Look, Dajuan May-Daily could be a cold-blooded killer. Or this could be an accidental shooting, as he reportedly claims. Whatever the case, he deserves his day in court. Yet he’s been waiting — presumably in the city jail — for more than a year.

The 6th Amendment guarantees the right of the accused to a speedy trial. That was put on hold when Virginia’s state of emergency was declared. With precautions in place, it’s time to get trials moving again.

That won’t happen if prospective jurors hide or play dead.

When you think about it, America’s jury system is a beautiful thing. Made up of ordinary people, from all walks of life, juries resolve disputes and determine guilt or innocence. In many countries those issues are in the hands of a dictator and his cronies.

When a city has a chronic problem getting people to show up for jury duty, it’s a very bad sign. It means a significant number of citizens have no interest in their own community. Or they slept through civics class.

Which is it, Norfolk?

This column was republished with permission from Kerry: Unemployed and Unedited.

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15 responses to “Jury Duty? Pick Me!

  1. I was once excused from a jury pool for reading a copy of the Constitution while waiting for the attorneys to show up.

  2. I sincerely hope your wish comes true, but saying things like “Pick me!” and “I always wanted to serve on a jury,” may make it difficult to survive voir dire. Well, that and posting a few “Get tough on crime” articles online.

    But I hope if you do get your jury duty that it’s a nice little bad checks or embezzlement case. You really don’t want a case of a 15-year old girl who was declared a runaway only to have her skeletal remains found in a copse two blocks from home 3 months later with her blue jeans cut half off an a ligature around her neck tied so tight you couldn’t slip it over your hand.

  3. Well, I hope you get a jury… er, I mean on a jury.

    But making statements like “Pick me,” and “I always wanted to serve on a jury” is likely to be disqualifying in voir dire.

  4. Both sides can get rid of prospective jurors. Folks who look like they got strong opinions , often get tossed.

    I would imagine unless Kerry went into deep “cloak” mode, she’d be history early on.

  5. As I have pointed out in another post, fewer than 10 percent of criminal trials in Virginia are jury trials. A defendant or the prosecutor can opt for a jury trial, but most cases are settled through plea agreements. Virginia’s system of allowing juries to recommend the sentence is the main reason for this lack of jury trials. Juries do not have the benefit of sentencing guidelines and thus usually hand down stiffer sentences than judges. That may change if SB 5007 passes.

    No one, except maybe Kerry, wants to serve on a jury. Butas Kerry says, it is a civic duty. Judges should come down hard on those who do not show up when called.

    • There are two kinds of “trials” also – right? Civil as well as criminal. Apparently citizens can be called also for civil disputes.

      • Yes. And a big difference is how long you’re on the hook. I think here, criminal jury pools are 3 weeks long, civil 6 weeks. 1983 was a bad year for me. I was called up for both criminal and civil pools and was empaneled five times. Excused from 2 civil because I knew the plaintiff in one and a lawyer in the 2nd. Of the 3 on which I actually served, one criminal case was dismissed after the State presented its case. Judge just pitched it with no defense needed. The others were a murder trial and a medical product liability case.

        I’ve not been called since.

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