1. Just Show Up
There are thousands of web sites dedicated to providing you with the best excuse to get out of jury duty. If you live in a large metropolitan area, however, it won’t matter, because the people at the courthouse really have heard it all, and they still need jurors, so they are stuck with you. So unless you’re on life support at a hospital you should show up, and unlike Scott Enke, 33, of Plainfield, Ill, do stay for the whole trail if you’re selected.
Enke was charged with contempt and narrowly avoided three days in jail after emailing the trial judge and the judge’s deputy clerk on March 7, 2012, during the trial for which he was a juror, saying that he couldn’t make it that day because he had an important business trip. The trial proceeded without the medical supply salesman, who was summoned to court where he apologized profusely to U.S. District Judge James Holderman, who found Enke’s voicemail to be “a positive approach” saying, “I appreciate your sincerity.” To avoid jail time Enke had to pay a $1,000 fine, write an essay for potential jurors on the significance of jury duty and just “showing up,” and speak at a legal symposium on the importance of jury service in the fall of 2012.
2. Be Sober — or Not
Jurors are supposed to avoid any outside influences that might prejudice them against the defendant. Historically this meant newspapers, but can also apply to drugs and alcohol. Whether being under the influence constitutes an undue outside influence, however, is mostly up to the judge. For example in November 2011 a Wisconsin juror was dismissed for being drunk in court, reportedly blowing over a .08 in the courtroom during a murder-for-hire trial. A 1987 New York State Supreme Court decision, however, rejected the argument that jurors consuming alcohol, smoking marijuana, snorting cocaine and falling asleep constituted an “outside influence” on jurors, and so judges don’t do much about it, though they probably still find it, and the drunk or stoned juror, reprehensible.
3. Be Polite in the Courtroom
This little tidbit applies to anyone in a courtroom, not just prospective jurors. Anyone who is deemed to be rude by the judge can be charged with contempt and wind up in the clink. Native Texan Matthew Bartlett, 28, the waiter who gave the prosecutor the finger in court during the Casey Anthony murder trial in Florida, found this out the hard way. He was found in contempt by Judge Belvin Perry that day immediately after the proceedings and sentenced to six days in jail — no lawyer, no bail, no explanations. In fact, by the time his lawyer got organized Bartlett would nearly be done serving his sentence. There are apparently signs and actual deputies outside the courtroom that warn spectators that hand signals are prohibited. Bartlett’s actions, which he himself characterized as “stupid,” could have even caused a mistrial because the jury was present in the courtroom. In addition to jail time, Bartlett also faced a $400 fine and $223 in court fees.
4. Don’t Flirt With the Defendant on Facebook
Social networking during jury duty is a definite no-no, no matter how cute the defendant is. Juror Jacob Jock, 29, of Sarasota County Florida found this out when he narrowly avoided jail on December 12, 2011. Jock reportedly got bored during questioning and started looking up the defendants on Facebook with his smart phone. The Juror made the critical error of trying to friend defendant Violetta Milerman on Facebook. Jock showed up the next day and was hauled up in front of an irate judge after Milerman told her attorney about the friend request. Jock explained that he had sent the request accidentally. He was dismissed, but could easily have gone to jail. On leaving the courtroom he reportedly Facebooked his friends saying, “Score … I got dismissed!! apparently they frown upon sending a friend request to the defendant… haha.”
5. Don’t Get all CSI and Do Your Own Sleuthing
It has long been a standard that jurors are not supposed to read media coverage about the case on which they are deliberating, but UK Juror Dorothea Dallas, 34, seems to have thought that doing the prosecutors’ job for them would be OK. In July 2011 she ignored the judge’s instructions about not doing Internet searches during the trial, and went home and Googled the defendant during jury deliberations. Dallas, a native Greek, who moved to the UK at age 19, triumphantly showed up for court the next day and informed her fellow jurors that their defendant, Barry Medlock, who was charged with causing grievous bodily harm with intent, had once been acquitted of rape, a fact which had not been disclosed to the jury. Another juror informed an usher that Dallas had done Internet research, the trial was stopped and Dallas was charged with criminal contempt of court. In a written statement the psychology lecturer at the University of Bedfordshire told the court, “sometimes my grasp of English is not that good. I did not understand that I could make no search on the Internet. … I had no intention at all to prejudice the jury in any way.” The judge didn’t buy it; Dallas was found in contempt of court and sentenced to six months in jail. Medlock was later retried and convicted.