SERVING ON A GRAND JURY
By Briyahna Rice
The last thing most students want to be saddled with is something as time-consuming as grand jury duty, especially if they get picked to sit in. Sure, they can postpone the jury duty request, but if the summons comes in the summer, and it’s postponed, they’re setting themselves up to be summoned back in January when everything is cold and miserable. In which case, the jurors won’t be focused on the cases presented, but rather on how their commute home is going to turn out in the snow.
However, think about it. You’re getting paid $40 a day to serve, why not? Money is money. This summer, I didn’t mind making some easy money to occupy an otherwise uneventful summer, and sat in on multiple cases spread out over 20 days. For a college student, it’s something to consider.
The room that the jurors are placed in is pretty comfortable, fully stocked with a coffee maker, refrigerator, microwave, and TV with a DVD and VHS player. And best of all, free public Wi-Fi. Plus, there’s plenty of downtime in between waiting on cases to come in. Some may come one after the other, and others have a lag until the next day. In which case, jurors can go to lunch, take a walk, or watch a few movies to kill time.
Once the cases do start to come in, it's time to turn off the phones, get ready to pay attention, and take notes like it's back to school season. A common misconception about grand jury duty is that the jurors get to decide on guilty or not guilty like it’s an episode of Law and Order. But that’s never going to be the case. Rather, the grand jury decides if a felony case has enough evidence for an indictment and can go to trial. In New York, there are no more than 23 jurors, and at least 12 grand jurors are needed to decide whether to issue an indictment.
In the event that a case get doesn’t get an indictment, it gets thrown out, and the defendants walk free. Innocent until proven guilty, indeed. Now some cases were harder to digest than others, including an assault with a deadly weapon, domestic abuse, and the endangerment of a child under 17. Frequently, the officers who were on scene, the witnesses, and even the victims in the case are brought in to explain their knowledge of the incident. After that, the Assistant DA “charges the jury,” meaning that they outline the law for us. In the beginning, being charged on the law was fascinating, but after the first week, it got to be a bit repetitive. However, earning $40 a day made it a little easier to listen to the instructions.
From my experience, jury duty is a good way to gauge how the legal system works for anyone who doesn't study the law. I plan to follow up with online research on some of the cases I heard throughout the summer. Not to mention, I earned $800 as a grand juror, at a time when I was unemployed and looking for an interesting way to spend some free time.