Everyone should serve jury duty — like any patriotic American I believe this.But when I got the summons, I — like many Americans — wasn’t ready to take an extended leave from work, so I started looking for a way out of it.
Business Insider has a slideshow on the subject that shows up in the top spot on Google, with advice ranging from “find a personal connection to the case” to “tell them you’re really busy at work.”
Simple enough, but I learned of another trick from a lawyer friend. Mention the term “jury nullification,” he said, and the lawyers won’t want anything to do with you. This term refers to the ability of a juror to decline to convict based on a law he disagrees with — no matter the evidence. This sounded like a great idea.
So on Friday morning in the snow I went to the King’s County Supreme Court. After a few hours of waiting, I was called along with about 15 others to a room on the ninth floor where, after a lunch break, the jury selection began.
As the defence attorney began a long spiel about the importance of finding a fair jury, however, I realised I had entirely the wrong idea about how the process worked.
If we had any sort of bias, he said, we should tell them now so we could be excused. If we were biased against a plaintiff who was a former drug addict, we should tell them so we could be excused. If we had a problem with New York tort law or workplace safety law, then we should let them know so we could be excused. The lawyers only got three vetoes each, he said, so they would prefer we tell them upfront if we wouldn’t be good jurors. Also if we weren’t available on February 26, then we should excuse ourselves.
It was unbelievably easy to be excused.
And so it began. One by one people were given the option to step outside and give an excuse, and two out of three did so, and all of them were allowed to leave. Meanwhile some people — given every option in the world to get out — said they were impartial and stayed in the room for further questioning.
When my turn came I didn’t know where to start. Standing in the hallway with excuses swirling through my head, I muttered something about the flaws of New York workers’ comp law — only to be told that this was a tort case — and then muttered something about workplace safety law, and finally played my trump card and mentioned jury nullification. The attorneys smirked. They weren’t convinced of anything except that I had a bad attitude, but that was enough, and they let me go.
In the end I realised it’s pretty simple to get out of jury duty (at least in my case — and please let me know if anyone has a different experience).
Just say that you’re biased.
This isn’t even a lie. Everyone is biased. What the court is looking for are people who (1) have no major biases and (2) are willing to suppress minor biases in the name of justice.
So if you say you’re biased, whether you really have a strong prejudice or are just trying to shirk your civic duty, the attorneys won’t want you on the case.
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