June
22nd 2011
Always in the jury pool, never a juror

Posted under: American history, Gender, local news, unhappy endings

Can you believe that Historiann got a peremptory challenge by the defense for a domestic violence trial?  (When I called to tell Fratguy, he said:  “Are you kidding me?  You’re the defense’s best friend,” which I think is usually the case.  If I have any bias, it’s to the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof being the prosecution’s.)  In voir dire, I volunteered that I am a feminist scholar who once published an article on domestic violence.  I said–quite truthfully–that it would not prevent me from rendering an impartial verdict, but since other potential jurors were talking about their professional experience with domestic violence, I thought that the attorneys in this case should know about my professional expertise in intimate/family violence, albeit in the seventeenth century.

Without improperly divulging any of the relevant details, here are my observations about my 3 hours of jury duty this morning:

  1. It’s difficult to impanel a jury for a domestic violence case, because so many people have experience with intimate or family violence.  I was reminded again what a sheltered and fortunate life I’ve lived insofar as I’ve never been a victim of domestic violence, and I’ve never known any friends or family members to have been victims.  It was pretty disturbing to hear of the number of randomly selected citizens whose lives have been torn by domestic violence.  The woman next to me in the jury box said that she was a witness in a domestic violence case in which her daughter was the victim, and one man said that he couldn’t render an impartial verdict because his daughter was molested.  One woman confessed that her shoulder was dislocated in an incident with a partner, although she described herself as “the aggressor.”  Furthermore, there were at least two people in the initial 12 of us in voir dire who work in family services/child welfare who offered that they’ve seen and heard of many cases of intimate or family violence.
  2. Here’s a question for the rest of you:  are people being crafty liars when they say they’ll hold a defendant’s decision not to testify on his own behalf against him, or are there really that many honest (but incredibly stupid) people who don’t get it that the burden of proof is on the state, not on the defendant?  (See what Fratguy meant about me being a defense attorney’s dream?)
  3. Related to #2:  I guess there are just a lot of middle-class people who never think that the coercive power of the state will ever be a problem for them.
  4. I suspect that there was only one malingerer in the jury pool.  Who seriously thinks parenthood excuses one from jury duty?  The county gives us at least six weeks notice so that we can notify employers and/or make other arrangements for child or dependent/disabled care–do you really think being a parent means that you are exempt from the responsibilities of citizenship?

53 Comments »

53 Responses to “Always in the jury pool, never a juror”

  1. -k- on 22 Jun 2011 at 11:36 am #

    “The county gives us at least six weeks notice so that we can notify employers and/or make other arrangements for child or dependent/disabled care–do you really think being a parent means that you are exempt from the responsibilities of citizenship?”

    Li’l bit classist, there, to assume that six weeks’ notice is all it would take to make this tenable. Parents are clearly not the only people to whom this applies, but I don’t have to think all that hard to see how the need to tend to that particular responsibility could be a valid reason to not sit on a jury.

  2. anonymous on 22 Jun 2011 at 11:41 am #

    People mostly assume that if you’re in a courtroom you are guilty of SOMEthing. They are therefore mostly willing to convict for a plausible crime.

    You probably got booted because the defense lawyer is planning to blame the victim rather than point out the police’s lack of proof, unfortunately a strategy more likely to work with most jurors. Your education/reasonableness/defense-friendliness doesn’t help that strategy.

  3. anonymous on 22 Jun 2011 at 11:50 am #

    To -k-:
    I, too, flashed to how costly childcare is (and how little jurors are compensated for service).

    Then I remembered that a) Historiann sat and listened to the juror answer questions about household structure, employment, income, etc., and b) this is Historiann’s blog, not some other asshole’s.

    Maybe you SHOULD have thought a little bit hard.

  4. Historiann on 22 Jun 2011 at 12:24 pm #

    -k- makes a reasonable point, but jury duty is burdensome for everyone, most esp. working-class and poor people. But it’s poverty and not parenthood that makes it so. I assume that most people called for duty today are employed, many of them in jobs that are not salaried and so they won’t get paid for the duration. But NO ONE tried to slip the noose for those reasons. The only person who implied that her labor was truly indispensible today is a SAHM with “four little guys” who said her husband was watching them in the a.m. But “he has patients to see” in the p.m. Now I call that poor planning–it’s not like jury duty is a surprise.

    BTW, she was excused b/c of reason 2 above when her kid gambit didn’t fly.

  5. tony grafton on 22 Jun 2011 at 12:45 pm #

    Fascinating. When I’m called to Trenton, as soon as the prosecutor finds out I’m a Princeton professor, he or she calls for the hook. Mrs TG, on the other hand, is an adjunct at Rutgers, and she always gets to serve. Go figure.

  6. Susan on 22 Jun 2011 at 12:48 pm #

    I was once in the pool for a murder case. I got off even before the voir dire because I needed to travel to a memorial service on the west coast, but one of the other people to raise issues before the voir dire was someone who just said “a murder trial would be upsetting”. I thought, “Yes, everyone else *wants* to sit through hearing about how two people were killed”. The judge, quite rightly, did not excuse said person while I was there… Perversely, I was sorry I had to go out of town because I thought it would be interesting, if upsetting.

    Like you, I’d be a defense lawyer’s dream and a prosecutor’s nightmare. But I suspect I’d be subject to someone’s peremptory challenge because I’d think too much.

    BTW, the real heroes are the ones who sit as grand jurors. The two I know who have done this serve for a month, of almost daily meetings, and previewing all sorts of cases. Both my family members have commented on how distressing the experience is (you get an overview of all the serious cases the DA has) but also how rewarding, and how seriously their colleagues took it.

  7. squadratomagico on 22 Jun 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    I suspect it was calling yourself a feminist that got you booted, actually.

    I’ve been called for jury duty twice, but never empaneled. The first case was a car-pedestrian accident, and I’m not sure why I was dismissed. The second one was an extremely petty theft case: seriously, the accusation was against a minor for stealing another kid’s lunch-money. I thought the whole thing was frivolous and a waste of state resources. I guess that attitude was pretty clear, since I was dismissed by the prosecution.

  8. Historiann on 22 Jun 2011 at 1:22 pm #

    It might have been the women’s historian bit that sunk me, but the two potential jurors who did social work/family evaluations were also dismissed. I think both sides were looking for people whose work and/or life experience didn’t give them a lot of previous familiarity with domestic violence.

    I wonder if Tony’s problem is Princeton v. Rutgers! And I agree with Susan: people called to serve on a petit jury and complain/try to wheedle out of it are really weak. I look forward to the possibility of serving as a Grand Juror in retirement.

  9. Kathie on 22 Jun 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    I don’t think there is any discernible logic about who gets picked for juries. I’ve gotten called to jury duty seven times over many years, and have served on 4 juries, 3 of them for traffic cases, one for assault. As a grad student and young scholar (back in the day), I was always kept on a jury once I was randomly selected. Lately I’ve been dismissed under the new rules of one day or one trial, what an improvement over the early days of sitting around for days on end! In one recent case, I was dismissed after voir dire for no clear reason that I could discern.

    My husband ended up on the jury for a gang-related attempted murder case that lasted three weeks and went way over his allotted jury leave from his job; he had to use vacation days for the last few days of the trial! That is an incentive to get out of jury duty if at all possible.

  10. Historiann on 22 Jun 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    Kathie–you must just have an open, friendly face! I think you’re right that we can’t really know why we got chucked out or left in. There are details in the cases that of course we can’t know that the prosecution & defense attorneys may be planning for.

    Fratguy was on a murder case last summer. He and some of the other jurors bonded over the ridiculous reasons people were using to try to wheedle out of jury duty.

    The one day/one trial thing really works well, I think–that’s how they do it here. We were told this morning that all four cases today were county (small beer) cases and would be just one-day trials, so that should have put most potential jurors’ minds at ease.

    I recognize that jury duty is relatively easy for me, especially in the summers when I’m not teaching. (This is the first time I’ve been called in the summer, though.) Most people stand to lose income and/or just have more of a problem rearranging their lives. (Fratguy lost a week’s income–if he doesn’t see patients, he doesn’t get paid.) Maybe the attorneys sense my eagerness to serve and don’t want to impanel me on the theory that they’d rather have slightly resentful jurors rather than those who seem a little too excited to be on a jury?

  11. ADM on 22 Jun 2011 at 1:50 pm #

    I’ve been empaneled four times, dropped at voir dire twice, dismissed before voir dire once (guilty plea), and then allowed to go before voir dire the last time, because the defendant was four hours late, the trial should have taken less than a day, and the judge asked if any of us had plans for the next two days. I said it would mean missing two days of class instead of one, but I could give an alternate assignment. He let me and four other people go.

  12. DickensReader on 22 Jun 2011 at 2:34 pm #

    Hairdressers lose money when they are at jury duty. So do mechanics, massage therapists, nail technicians, transcriptionists, and all other professions that are paid only when they produce. In addition, when a person works at home in order to cut down the expense of childcare, jury duty will force them to pay for childcare or leave their children at home risking being on trial themselves facing a jury not of their peers.

    Neo-cons will say one should save up their money in order to serve on jury duty.

    I have long concluded that a jury will never be of one’s peers. The jury will be packed with military retirees and/or other retirees (civil service) and middle class people with solid and secure jobs that will pay for the days missed from work with the guarantee that they will not be fired for missing work. Although it is probably “illegal” to fire someone for missing work because of jury duty, many employers can get away with it by citing another reason.

    The jury will always be stacked against a poor person because that jury will not be made up of his/her peers.

  13. Belle on 22 Jun 2011 at 2:59 pm #

    Well, I’ve never been called. But here in RNC, I figure that once they talk to me, I’ll be dismissed. A feminist historian who is a survivor of domestic abuse? They’ll rush me to the door. The PhD only clinches hit.

    A couple of years ago, I remember hearing PBS Newshour explain Jim L’s absence that he was on jury duty. Now that was a brave bunch of lawyers! As to the presumption of guilt via the 5th: that would be automatic in RNC. It’s all part of what they insist are ‘traditional values.’

  14. Indyanna on 22 Jun 2011 at 3:39 pm #

    I think too much smarts–which in the short run context of voir dire can only mean too much articulateness–probably makes lawyers on both sides of the criminal bar nervous about trying their cases. The civil side maybe different, especially for complex litigation. The legendary chief judge of New York’s Court of Appeals (which in that state is several notches above the “Supreme Court”), Judith Kaye, pushed through new jury regulations in the 1990s that essentially did away with *all* categorical professional or occupational exemptions, including for active lawyers. It was a pretty thoroughgoing reform, as illustrated by the fact that she was subsequently called herself and served on a jury in an Albany County case.

    If I was on a grand jury it would be a formula for mayhem, as I couldn’t abide by the notion that the jury members are expected to just rubber stamp whatever the smart prosecutor asks for; as in the old saw about indicting a ham sandwich. Rye bread would rule the streets in whatever jurisdiction I was called in.

  15. token undergrad on 22 Jun 2011 at 4:15 pm #

    My mother is a lecturer at your average state university branch campus, and as soon as she says so she’s dismissed – she’s never served on a jury for any of a variety of cases. We’ve always assumed it’s just a sort of anti-intellectualism at work, but given the variety of experiences here it seems that things are probably more complicated than that.

  16. FrauTech on 22 Jun 2011 at 4:41 pm #

    I blogged on my fairly recent jury experience:

    http://frautech.blogspot.com/2011/03/priming-and-justice-system.html

    My experience was anybody who answered ANY of their little questions (we weren’t asked one by one, just asked to raise hands) or had anything interesting to see in their “intro” were dismissed. I am boring and was chosen. I was a defense attorneys dream in that I knew that a) burden of proof was on the prosecutor and b) a law officer’s opinion of a situation is not the law. It was one of the most difficult situations I’ve been through recently, the arguing the yelling the name calling from the majority of the jurors who believed the guy was guilty because “the cop said he was” and you know he’s a cop, we should just rubber stamp his opinion here. Oi. In the end we were hung and thankfully the judge didn’t make us try much longer. When I have to get called again I’ll probably try to be more “interesting” so I am not chosen. I suppose letting the man not get convicted was worth it, but I suspect future jurors will be more maleable and someone will eventually give in to the cop’s opinion as stated law.

  17. shaz on 22 Jun 2011 at 4:56 pm #

    Got booted off a jury in a case involving two African American defendants accused of a jewelry store robbery in a very white neighborhood. Maybe it was saying I’d written on the foundations of racism in the U.S. legal system. Or saying that I don’t believe there is any abstract meaning to a law outside of social construction. The judge sent me home after that, so I didn’t get to correct his false statements about the foundation of our criminal justice system. Geez, do law schools not require any legal history courses??

    But part of me felt bad — I would probably be a great jury member, and someone who should serve on juries. Maybe when I retire, I’ll volunteer for grand jury duty or something.

  18. wini on 22 Jun 2011 at 5:25 pm #

    My husband had a very similar experience on a domestic violence case. The majority of the people in the room stood up and told horrible tales of domestic violence. Then, the lawyers booted everyone with an advanced degree.

    On the other hand, we had a friend who had a degree in forensics who was placed on a jury for a murder trial. So, who knows?

  19. Kathy on 22 Jun 2011 at 6:41 pm #

    I got excused in Australia (not sure how diff rules are here) basically because of childcare. I didn’t mention or consider my part-time job at all in my reasons (granted, having a full-time-employed partner, I didn’t need to be as worried about a reduction in my income for a period of time, so I had considerable privilege there).

    In my case, my youngest child at the time was 3 months old and breastfeeding 3-4 hourly. I suspect it was the frequent nursing that clinched the excuse, and I think rightly so. Parental status might not a prima facie ground for excusing a potential juror, but even without my own experience, I’m tempted to say that having a very young nursling, or being in an advanced state of pregnancy, should be, if for no other reason than practicality.

    In my case, I indicated that I would be willing and able to arrange childcare for my other children, and bring my infant with me to court if I was empanelled, but that leaving her for extended days would not be an option. The judge didn’t think for 10 seconds before excusing me.

  20. Janice on 22 Jun 2011 at 6:42 pm #

    I was a little bit bummed that they cancelled the session two weeks before I was called for jury duty. It was my going to be my first experience ever and I’m closing in on fifty, here!

    I agree that the system more than sucks for self-employed and hourly workers who’re left hanging by the assumptions that because you legally can’t get fired for jury duty means that the government owes no more than that empty promise unless the trial goes particularly long.

    The hardship makes it all the more perplexing that so many people whose situations aren’t going to be at risk aren’t being called to serve in juries. Or why can’t jury duty come with remuneration and family care provisions?

  21. GeoHistorian on 22 Jun 2011 at 7:34 pm #

    I was called for jury duty as an undergrad, and seated, on a minor drug case. At the time I was majoring in an earth science so that didn’t stop my seating at all.

    My sister was a grad student at Ben Franklin U at about the same time Historiann was in a related department and she was seated on a Philadelphia capital case. I think mostly because both sides were just trying to seat a jury at all given the nature of the case.

    Come a few years later she was called in another state and was booted when she answered a question about consent between a prisoner and prison guard with “I can’t see how that wouldn’t be coersive.”

    My mother is a PhD combustion chemist and she has a gift for being called for cases involving cars and she always gets booted. My father who is a PhD biologist come Pharma executive also seems to get booted from juries for the sin of having a PhD.

  22. Dremrigsby on 22 Jun 2011 at 8:33 pm #

    My partner is a mathematician. He regularly gets through first round interviews, but never second. I (communication scholar) have never made it out of the pool. It *feels* like we Ph.D’s are often nixed…someone must have done research on this…

  23. Bardiac on 22 Jun 2011 at 9:59 pm #

    I was on the beginning stage panel for a domestic violence case. The panel was about half men, half women. They asked us whether we’d been involved in or known anyone directly who’d been involved with domestic violence, and all but one woman raised her hand, and none of the men. And we women were all off.

    I couldn’t believe that statistically, NONE of the men knew anyone who’d experienced domestic violence, unless they define domestic violence only as someone killing someone else, and never notice a coworker coming in with bruises, or needing to call 911 because a neighbor is screaming for help.

    I’ve been empaneled other times, but when the defendent saw the jury seated, they settled. And twice I’ve served on actual trials. It’s an unpleasant responsibility at best.

  24. Notorious Ph.D. on 23 Jun 2011 at 1:42 am #

    Susan brings up something I’ve long suspected: “I’d be subject to someone’s peremptory challenge because I’d think too much.” After sitting in the pool and watching voir dire (which one judge pronounced “vwar dyer” — arrrgh!!), I figured out that one of the most important things about litigation is forming a persuasive argument. Which is great. But if you have jury members who are trained in *dissecting* persuasive arguments (see any graduate seminar, ever), then you’re going to be in trouble.

    Interesting aside: Notorious Dad (also a smart guy, and one who would want to be empaneled for purely civic reasons) once spent a month on a grand jury dealing with meth labs — a duty that involved having a member of the Puddletown PD’s meth task force come in and walk the jury through the components and processes involved. So my computer-programmer chess-master dad now knows how to cook meth.

  25. J. Otto Pohl on 23 Jun 2011 at 4:29 am #

    I have served on one jury, drunk driving, it was a hung jury. I have also been called up two other times. One time I managed to avoid even having to come to the court house. I was living in Arivaca about 60 miles southwest of Tucson and had no car. There is no public transport on the Mexican-US border either. I wrote the appropriate county office that I would be very happy to serve on jury duty and could they please send a car to pick me up at 7:00 am. I then included directions to where I lived. Getting there from Tucson involves driving a considerable distance over upaved roads. I received a letter back in a couple of days dismissing me from jury duty.

  26. wini on 23 Jun 2011 at 7:03 am #

    I should say that my cousin-in-law is an Assistant District Attorney in the same mid-sized city I live in. Whenever the topic comes up, she is adamant that jury selection is totally random and that no one understands it. She swears advanced degrees are only slightly more likely to get you booted.

    I’m not looking forward to the day when my husband’s mother (a social worker for Head Start) and she sit down in a room and start trading work stories. I think all we’d need is a cop of some kind in the family and we’d have the trifecta of domestic violence horror stories.

  27. Daniel S. Goldberg on 23 Jun 2011 at 7:12 am #

    Speaking as a former appellate attorney (who often find themselves working on error in the voir dire process, especially in criminal appeals), my anecdotal sense is that intellectual types are generally not preferred in a variety of trials, although of course it is somewhat ad hoc. Sometimes there are obvious reasons for this, as when a civil engineer happens to be in the jury pool on a negligence case involving the failure of a structure (in this case the dismissal would be for cause).

    Sometimes there are less obvious reasons. But the preference for non-intellectual types is just that, and is certainly not ironclad (if it was it could very well be reversible error). What’s interesting is that opinions about juries among litigators vary wildly, IMO. Some are horrified; some find them to be the best exemplars of civic virtue, democracy, and apple pie. I tend to fall more in the former category, but in part that comes from the fact that some of my practice involved highlighting errors in voir dire and jury deliberations, although the latter are much less common and much harder to prevail upon.

    I was called for jury duty about a year ago, had zero interest in serving, although given my view that the criminal justice system in my city then was pure concentrated evil it had less to do with my general feelings about juries. The criminal case rested entirely on eyewitness testimony, and as I have done some small work on the devastating unreliability of that testimony, it was not too difficult for me to be dismissed for cause (although not before the defense attorney had managed to get me to offer some thoughts and evidence supporting my views, which of course tainted the entire pool. Reversible error, that, if the prosecutors were paying attention).

  28. votermom on 23 Jun 2011 at 7:37 am #

    Here’s a question for the rest of you: are people being crafty liars when they say they’ll hold a defendant’s decision not to testify on his own behalf against him, or are there really that many honest (but incredibly stupid) people who don’t get it that the burden of proof is on the state, not on the defendant?

    For a domestic violence case, I think they are being honest. People usually judge a person’s control of his/her temper on how they behave when they are under stress (like being on the hot seat).

    Related to #2: I guess there are just a lot of middle-class people who never think that the coercive power of the state will ever be a problem for them.
    I suspect that there was only one malingerer in the jury pool. Who seriously thinks parenthood excuses one from jury duty? The county gives us at least six weeks notice so that we can notify employers and/or make other arrangements for child or dependent/disabled care–do you really think being a parent means that you are exempt from the responsibilities of citizenship?

    As an unemployed immigrant mom, I take issue with this. I’m the one that gets a call late at night on “can little so & so please stay at your house starting tomorrow for the next x days because I have no one to watch the little darling” but do I have anyone I can call to do the same? No. Maybe the Y would take the kids at short notice but it wouldn’t be cheap. I know you said middle-class but that class is shrinking fast and that question came across as incredibly smug.

  29. The Rebel Lettriste on 23 Jun 2011 at 8:02 am #

    “I guess there are just a lot of middle-class people who never think that the coercive power of the state will ever be a problem for them.”

    Word. Wait til that coercive power comes for you. Or your children.

  30. Historiann on 23 Jun 2011 at 8:06 am #

    Oh, please, votermom: we’re given six ro eight weeks notice for jury duty. It’s not a last-minute thing at all. If you resent people calling at the last minute asking you to babysit, then there’s a simple solution: just don’t do it! Say no! People will stop asking you for favors in short order.

    I’m betting that nearly everyone in that courtroom yesterday–jury pool, attorneys, clerk, reporter, judge, defendant, and bailiff–have children, and yet they managed to make it to court without asking for special consideration. How is it “smug” to point out the inappropriateness of the request to skip jury duty because of having children? (Kathy’s comment above is a good exception–nursing infants *do* require a special kind of labor and attention from their mothers. But that wasn’t presented as part of the request yesterday to be released from duty.)

  31. Feminist Avatar on 23 Jun 2011 at 9:38 am #

    Perhaps the mother felt that she was performing citizenship through her motherhood and therefore didn’t need to do it in other contexts. ;)

    Seriously, I think it’s hugely problematic that you can be dismissed for having experience of ‘x’ issue in a generic sense- because how is this creating a jury of peers? Domestic violence is an everyday experience; amongst certain communities murder is relatively common. Presumably, drivers never got booted off of a case involving a car accident, so why is experience of crimes different?

    In the UK, we get our wages back up to a certain amount (which is well above minimum wage) and claim some expences for jury duty. We have a problem where most juries are made up of retirees, the unemployed and those in low-status jobs, because middle-class jobs provide lots of ‘valid’ excuses to get out of it. As a result, there has been a push against this and with clarifying that lawyers, judges, police etc can all sit on juries, in order to encourage this. We are even having discussions about ‘specialist’ juries after some very complex fraud cases failed to come to verdict after long trials, as the jury just did not understand the evidence (this is of course conflicts with ‘jury of peers’, so who knows if it will come to anything).

    We don’t get questioned about suitability (ie we can’t be dismissed by lawyers as in the US), but we do have to declare if we know anybody involved or have inside information on the case that would be a conflict. So my husband got out of jury duty as he knew the defendant!

  32. votermom on 23 Jun 2011 at 9:42 am #

    It’s easy for people whose kids are already in some kind of daycare/aftercare to get extra care but SAHM usually don’t have their kids in one because they are staying home to provide daycare. Paid daycare here requires around 3 months on a waitlist … the daycare nearby has a one year waitlist. Try going to a daycare center here and asking if you can get your kid in 6 weeks from now for an unknown length of time – they will make you pay for at least a one month commitment unless it happens to be summer or break and you sign them up for a day camp.
    I just checked our Y and they require signing up for the whole year unless you are willing to pay hourly and leave them in the minimally provisioned babysitting-while-you-work-out room area which is by the hour.
    In our bitter-knitter backwoods area I think having a child under age 9 means automatic jury deferment. So it’s probably just a whole different gig from your area.

  33. LadyProf on 23 Jun 2011 at 9:44 am #

    I envy you for getting that close, Historiann! Grass being greener, I’ve always wanted to serve. I used to live in Atlanta where the summonses came fast and furious, but in my present location one gets a jury duty notice only once every eight years.

    Last year the jury clerk told my group, all dismissed with no voir dire, that we don’t need to be called often because our county has one of the best jury duty response/cooperation rates in the country. She beamed with pride. Could that be true? I would have credited population density, but I know of other counties just as big where jury calls are much more frequent. Go figure.

  34. life_of_a_fool on 23 Jun 2011 at 9:47 am #

    I sat on a jury years ago. I think I arguably should have been booted at that one, for a few reasons, and was surprised I wasn’t. When we (the jurors) talked about prior experience being on a jury, it seemed that the hourly workers — who were financially hurt by serving — were called *every year.* Salaried workers almost never got called.

    On #2, it may partly be people who don’t think the coercive power of the state will come for them, but I also think it’s simpler than that. Again, in my experience of 1 jury, we were trying to come up with a plausible story of what happened. What the defendant says or doesn’t say will become part of this speculation. Juries aren’t supposed to consider anything that isn’t legal evidence, but they do. (and there’s plenty of research on that, so that does extend beyond my anecdotal experience). As Notorious PhD said, it’s about making a persuasive argument.

    When I was called for jury duty a few years ago, I thought again that I wouldn’t be chosen. But, I tried to dress professionally and project an image of the good and responsible juror that I am! I was kicked off by the defense. The defense!! I was a little insulted by this.

  35. ColleenMary on 23 Jun 2011 at 9:52 am #

    Back off about the kids, Historiann. Sure the attorneys have child care–they can afford it. Ditto the judge and anyone else *with a full-time job.* But child care is not only wildly costly, it’s also damn hard to find–I moved to a new city a few years back with a toddler and spent weeks trying to find someone with an opening–and quite frankly ended up having to leave my child with someone I didn’t fully trust for the two weeks before school started (mandatory faculty meetings etc). I’m a competent professional, not an idiot, and I spent hours on the phone, calling everyone on the list the county supplied, plus the expensive centers (no, we’re not accepting anyone in that age group; sure, but mornings only; we’re closed the last week of August to get ready for the school year etc etc). I came up blank and was completely frantic. I can’t imagine being a random stay-at-home mom without plenty of cash and plenty of connections. Or even a working mom: child care has very strict hours, and very serious “you’re 2 minutes late” charges–it wouldn’t be a surprise for jury duty to conflict with set-in-concrete childcare hours. Trying to get childcare before your children are school-age is damn hard work. Give women a break, for crying out loud. Thank God my kids are past child-care age; I can’t tell you how much easier my life is. Your smug remarks about “everyone else made it to court” really got under my skin–I’d love to know how many of those other folks were childless, or had kids over 5, or had a spouse at home etc etc. Women who have sole daily responsibility for child care have a rough goddamn road and I’d think a feminist would realize that. (and yes, wouldn’t it be nice if husbands pitched in, but the world doesn’t always work like that now, does it? Even women I know whose husbands do LOTS of child care still don’t do anywhere close to half–and almost always rely on their wives to organize it).

  36. ColleenMary on 23 Jun 2011 at 9:58 am #

    And another thing, while I’m at it: this is exactly the reason why I can’t convince my aunt (among other relatives) that feminists don’t hate children and despise women who care for them. Your contempt for the mom with 4 kids does not become you. And “it’s poverty not parenthood” is a crock: parenthood makes demands that even money can’t fix. No one will take care of a sick kid, for example. Except mom, of course.

  37. Emma on 23 Jun 2011 at 11:43 am #

    child care has very strict hours, and very serious “you’re 2 minutes late” charges–it wouldn’t be a surprise for jury duty to conflict with set-in-concrete childcare hours

    IME, Judges are usually very respectful of juries and their time. And courts run on regular business hours. So, I would be surprised if jury duty conflicted with child care hours. Otherwise, how would working moms at the court be able to hold down jobs?

  38. Emma on 23 Jun 2011 at 11:53 am #

    Women who have sole daily responsibility for child care have a rough goddamn road and I’d think a feminist would realize that.

    I would think that this depends on one’s class.

  39. wini on 23 Jun 2011 at 11:55 am #

    This seems like something of a straw woman to me. Primary caregivers of young children are often excluded from jury duty. See your state here:
    http://www.familyfriendlyjuryduty.org/

    Most states have already decided that being the primary caregiver or a child, a disabled person, and/or a senior is a reason to be excluded from jury duty. It seems like states are putting more laws on the books about this, and federal courts seem to be especially diligent about this. And by “this” I don’t mean parenting specifically, but care giving in general.

    Is there an equivalent to Godwin’s law that charts how long it takes blog comment sections to turn into discussions of child raising and breastfeeding?

  40. iiii on 23 Jun 2011 at 12:48 pm #

    A question for those who have been full-time caregivers for children: would free on-site child care for jurors help?

  41. Emma on 23 Jun 2011 at 12:54 pm #

    How DO breastfeeding mothers ever go to work? Don’t women own breast pumps?

  42. anonymous on 23 Jun 2011 at 1:36 pm #

    The real point, I think, is that having kids and having to ensure they’re cared for is NOT a special snowflake situation. Most everyone reproduces eventually. It is “the norm” as those who do not are acutely aware. More than half the world is female.

    Now, “single mom” (NOT THAT THE WOMAN HISTORIANN DESCRIBED HAS ANYTHING AT ALL TO DO WITH SINGLE MOMS **OR** WORKING-CLASS OR EVEN NECESSARILY MIDDLE-MIDDLE-CLASS MOMS) is not the “default human,” this is true.

    So I ask you, what interest is served by automatically assuming “single mom” =/= not a “peer”?

    Is the voice and visibility and civic profile (and therefore POWER) of motherhood raised or lowered by the ability to say “I am a mother” and get out of jury service??

    Primary caregiver with no alternatives? FINE.
    “Mother”? Puh-leeze.
    That does NOT help women. Not any of us.

  43. anonymous on 23 Jun 2011 at 1:42 pm #

    Makes it pretty near impossible for any single moms out there to get justice, too.

  44. fratguy on 23 Jun 2011 at 3:08 pm #

    Anonymous, thanks. If you want to be a voting citizen…… The folks that me and my fellow jurors all held in contempt were the small business owners (Pottersville is a really small average sized town) , all male, who were clearly lying through their teeth to get out of jury duty because they could not reasonably plead hardship. I think there were a few people who pled genuine economic hardship and were excused and we did not resent them in the least. What was left was a group of thoughtful, evenminded, and most importanatly funny people whose first and last concern was that justice be served. Do not be fooled by reality television, there is hope for this nation yet.

  45. Historiann on 23 Jun 2011 at 3:40 pm #

    “Is there an equivalent to Godwin’s law that charts how long it takes blog comment sections to turn into discussions of child raising and breastfeeding?” Hah! Wini, you and I should come up with it if it hasn’t been invented already.

    Thanks for the research on the laws of my state (!). I had meant to say wayyyy upthread that all of those legal exemptions were presented on the jury duty notice–and IMHO, being the **sole** caregiver for an elderly, disabled, or very young person is a very good reason to seek an exemption.

    But, as anonymous reminds us, that wasn’t the case in the incident that has sparked this decision. anonymous gets it right: does insisting on a motherhood exemption for jury duty further women’s (and children’s) interests, or does it perpetuate the image of women as needing to remain in the private sphere and needing to be sheltered from the demands of the public sphere? Fratguy also gets it right: the easy way to avoid jury duty is not to register to vote! Yeah, now that’s a really awesome pro-woman, profeminist move. I’m sure Elizabeth Cady Stanton–mother of seven–is rolling in her grave at the notion that women might seek exemption from the responsibilities of citizenship on the basis of motherhood.

    Finally, I’m told above somewhere that I should “back off.” Here’s a different plan: can some of you professional mothers back off of my blog? It’s clear that some of you believe that anything that references motherhood is designed specifically to insult you. I don’t go trolling around your blogs looking for posts that insult my life, my womanhood, and/or my choices. You don’t have the power to make me feel bad about my life. (It’s actually exactly the one I wanted, thank you very much.) I really don’t get why you give me and some of my commenters so much power over your lives. We’re just some a$$holes on the internets, for cripessakes.

    People have different experiences of motherhood, but it seems like many of you are eager to police any conversations that don’t reflect your personal experiences, or that don’t talk about motherhood in ways of which you approve.

  46. I just went gay all of a sudden! : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 24 Jun 2011 at 6:21 am #

    [...] conversations here this summer have followed a familiar trajectory–like yesterday’s post in which I made an aside about how I didn’t think motherhood should qualify one for an [...]

  47. Kathie on 24 Jun 2011 at 8:01 am #

    In California they also use driver’s license lists to call people to jury duty, it obviously allows for a much larger and more diverse pool that voter registrar lists. I believe a number of states have similar policies.
    As for motherhood: the only favor I asked when my kids were younger was to be allowed to serve in a court closer to my home so that I could get to their day care or school by the end of the day; the initial court I was assigned to was a bit too distant to be certain I could beat the traffic at rush hour. They allowed the reassignment.

  48. Feminist Avatar on 25 Jun 2011 at 4:52 am #

    I went and checked this just for fun, but you can claim childcare costs in the UK when on jury duty, if you do not normally have childcare, or if you need extended hours. You can also claim expenses to pay for a carer to look after anybody else you normally care for.

  49. Leslie M-B on 27 Jun 2011 at 11:16 am #

    I guess there are just a lot of middle-class people who never think that the coercive power of the state will ever be a problem for them.

    Yes, yes, and yes! I’ve been following this case closely for a number of reasons (race, class, immigration status, AND gender!), but it really is a classic case, I think, of crazily overzealous prosecution.

    My mother has never had to serve on a jury because her father was a police officer for a while, and it seems every case she’s summoned for involves a police officer. You’d think that 45 years or so after my grandfather retired from the force, and 20 years after he died, she might be able to hear a case that involves an officer’s testimony, yes?

    The childcare exemption I don’t support. If one has a sick child for whom one provides specialized care, that’s one thing. Or if it’s a terrible financial hardship. Or if it looks like the case is going to go on for three months, then the courts might assist the parent in finding affordable child care. But considering the amount of notice courts typically give jurors when they’re summoned, there’s plenty of time for most parents to find childcare.

  50. Nicoleandmaggie on 17 Jul 2011 at 6:03 am #

    Just got a Jury summons… interesting to note an exemption listed IS having a child younger than 15 years of age and service on the jury would require leaving the child without adequate supervision. So maybe this lady was from a different state/county where such exemptions are more common. They also allow college students to be exempt which I think is unfair (since last time I served was in college, though they let move my service to vacation time)!

  51. Historiann on 17 Jul 2011 at 7:37 am #

    Both of those exemptions are ridiculous. Jeezus.

  52. Nicoleandmaggie on 17 Jul 2011 at 8:43 am #

    I briefly debated the paradox involved in choosing the “I am not of sound moral character” exemption. If one clicks that solely to avoid jury duty, does that, indeed, make one of not sound moral character? But if that is true, then no falsehood is being told, and one is of sound moral character, except if that is the case then it is a falsehood. To ensure that the center of the universe continued to hold, I had to admit that I was of sound moral character, which I guess means it is true.

    I still have to figure out what the hours are since they scheduled me for a teaching day and I need to know if I’m going to be able to make my night class or not. That would have been something useful to list on the courthouse webpage.

  53. Adjunctorium on 17 Feb 2012 at 9:58 am #

    “Do you really think being a parent means that you are exempt from the responsibilities of citizenship?”

    Well… The question is, do we really think that all citizens can afford days or even weeks of unplanned-for child care?

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply