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March 23, 2006

Jury Duty in D.C.

What happens to a law student called for jury duty? The same thing that happens to most of the other people called: nothing.

I spent the other day in D.C. Superior Court in the juror's lounge waiting to be called for a panel, but the call never came. Of course I was disappointed, but it did mean we got to leave at about 3 p.m., so I wasn't really complaining.

Read on for the long and completely stupid story of how I managed to complicate my jury service by getting a judge to issue a warrant for my arrest!

The excitement came before I actually reported for duty. I was originally summoned last fall—I think it was late October I was supposed to show up, or maybe November. I didn't take it very seriously b/c I just assumed there was no way a law student—and one who wants to be a criminal defender, no less—would ever make it on to a jury. In fact, I forgot all about it until sometime long after I was supposed to report, so I just figured they'd send me another summons for a different day. I based this assumption on my experience living in California where I received several jury summonses, never responded to any of them (because I was moving every few months and almost never actually living at the address where I received mail), and suffered no consequences at all.

But you know what happens when you assume something... D.C. apparently takes jury duty a little more seriously than those California jurisdictions because last month I got a notice ordering me to court to “show cause” why I should not be held in contempt for failing to report to jury duty. The notice said I could be imprisoned for 7 days and/or fined $300 if I could not show such cause. Yikes.

But wait, it got worse—I forgot the show cause hearing, too! Yeah. It was scheduled during Spring Break and although I put it in my calendar, I forgot to tell my calendar toremind me about it. And since I was on break, I wasn't checking my calendar; I didn't really think I had anything scheduled, and I just didn't look. Oops. So by that time I'd failed to appear for a court summons twice.

This actually worried me quite a bit. I know that if one of my criminal misdemeanor clients doesn't show up to court when he's supposed to, the court takes that very seriously and simple excuses like “I forgot” just don't fly. Would it be different for jury duty?

So I went to the court the next business day with much trepidation. Were they going to throw me in jail? Would I have to beg the judge for mercy? Would they at least fine me? Was this going to be something I'd have to report on my bar examinations?

Most of you will probably be unsurprised to learn that none of those things happened. True, the judge had ordered the issuance of a warrant for my arrest, but lucky for me the warrant had not been issued yet when I showed up with hat in hand and begging for mercy, so the good people in the jury office just cancelled the warrant and assigned me another day to return for jury duty. That's it. Bing, bang, and I was out of there. I then reported for jury duty as ordered, waited around 4-5 hours, and went home a completely free man.

But you know what? The next time I get a jury summons, I think I'll just avoid a lot of anxiety and hassle and just go to court when it says I should.

Posted March 23, 2006 09:28 AM | 3L

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Wow, that's an impressive entanglement with the jury system here. DC definitely takes the duty seriously, and DC residents get called every two years, almost without fail. I got called twice during law school.

The second time, I was called for grand jury. And while that sounds interesting, it also required reporting all day for six weeks straight.

I kid you not.

I completely freaked out with visions of my last semester of school being torpedoed, not being able to take the bar, etc. I don't know how non-salaried people, small business owners, etc. can do this duty. It's brutal.

And it also turned out that merely telling them that I was a student allowed me to change my service from grand to petite jury. Phew!

But being a law student or a lawyer won't get you off completely -- there are just too many lawyers in this town. My evidence professor (who is also a superior court judge) was called and had to serve... For the record, the rest of the jury thought he was a smart-ass because he knew too much.

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