Dear PoP – DC Superior Court Grand Jury Experiences

Photo by PoPville flickr user a digital cure

“Dear PoP,

I found this thread about federal grand jury duty, but wondered if you could get some of your readers who have done the DC Superior Court grand jury? I am asking specifically about GRAND jury service – which is not the one day/one trial type of jury duty many think of. This is the type where you hear evidence and decide if there’s enough to indict a suspect – not to pass a guilty/not guilty verdict.

I was called for the 5 day per week for 25 business days schedule. I got some good info from the comments in the past post, but it was about FEDERAL grand juries (2 days per week for 18 months) and I am on the DC SUPERIOR grand jury (every day for 5 weeks). I am serving starting April 25 – I was originally called to start Feb. 14th but was able to defer to give myself some time to prepare. I have also read ALL available materials on the DC Superior Court juror services website – regarding deferrals and hours and stipends, but some of it is for petit juries and I know that grand juries are a bit different.

Thus, some real experience answers to the following questions would be great:
-Will you always go from 9-5 every day? Or do you sometimes get out early?
-Is there downtime outside of lunch hours where I might be able to bring my laptop and squeeze in some work?
-Is the quorum still16 out of 23 – so if I’m sick or I desperately need to go into work once or twice, I could get a day off?
-How does the reimbursement and travel stipend work for federal employees? My HR department has just said to log the time as a special jury duty project code instead of a normal work code, nothing about where I need to turn in my checks or travel stipend (I get the federal public transport subsidy already so I don’t need it).
-Any other tips or suggestions for making it bearable?

I’m definitely not going to try to get out of serving. I’m glad to do my duty, but like many I have work concerns and just want to know what projects I should try to keep to work on at home in the evenings, and what projects I need to burden my coworkers to cover for me. I’m lucky that I’m a federal employee working on education and societal improvement projects – my work atmosphere is very supportive and encourages volunteerism and civic participation. Some of the stories of your readers with bosses and coworkers who resented them or denied them promotions are terrible. But I am still facing extra work in light of the budget crisis and staffing issues and want to make sure my programs and grantees get the same kind of service while I’m out as I would provide normally.”

Anyone have experience with DC Superior Court grand jury duty?

37 Comment

  • I don’t have any experience or advice but I want to commend you for not trying to get out of jury service.

    Nothing drives me more nuts. We need GOOD juries, especially in this town where everyone complains about crime and lack of convictions. Everyone needs to do their part.

    If god forbid you (the general you) ever end up as a defendant, you will be thankful for the men and women who serve on your jury and you’ll hope that they take their job very seriously.

    Grand juries are especially important because this is where it’s decided which cases actually go to indictment. It’s a good chance to do your part to make sure the system works for those who have been victimized.

    So, thank you.

  • I did the 5 week. It was insane. But to answer your questions:

    – It’s almost never 9 to 5. You can’t start until the 17th person shows up, and plenty of people drag their asses in late. Even if a quorum is there, sometimes prosecutors don’t have anything. Additionally, we almost never stayed until 5.

    – There is plenty of downtime. Bring a laptop or book or something.

    – Getting a day off is not hard. I was sick during the 5 weeks a couple of times and I had to stay home for repairs. It’s just like calling into work sick or asking for leave. Additionally, another guy on my jury traveled for work during the 5 weeks without problem.

    – You won’t get a reimbursement if work pays for juty duty. You can still get the $4 per day (probably more now) travel reimbursement. Ask your HCO about if you can keep that.

    – Tips for making it bearable: You’re not at work, feel free to drink during lunch. You’ll need it. Our jury heard over 60 cases those 5 weeks, everything from petty theft to murder and everything in between. A Christmas knife fight, a cracked out rape of a corpse, and lots of drug possession.

    – Overall, they are very flexible. They know it’s a burden and it’s exhausting. But on the other hand, you get to participate in the criminal justice system, and find lots of new reasons why you should move to Arlington.

    • +1. I did the 3 days/week for 8 weeks last summer. The overall experience really was not that bad. Plenty of downtime everyday, and we often left by 3:30 or 4:00. The woman who is in charge of scheduling is very flexible and will work with you to make the best of the situation. My best advice would be to try to enjoy the whole situation. It really does provide you with a unique look into the criminal justice system.

    • About the $4 a day, don’t do it if your job reimburses you. The DC govt reports your fees as 1099 and you have to pay taxes on it as if you are a contractor. Naive me thought you didn’t have to pay taxes for the Jury Duty reimbursement.

    • PLEASE don’t “feel free to drink during lunch.” Even if you aren’t necessarily busy in the afternoon, you are still making the first decisions affecting someone’s liberty. Deciding whether there is evidence that someone should be indicted is a sober task.

  • I served on the DC superior grand jury this past fall. On your notice, which grand jury are your assigned to (will give you a number between 1-5). That will tell you which type of crimes you normal will hear.

    Here are some answers to your questions:

    Will you always go from 9-5 every day? Or do you sometimes get out early? — Almost always 9-5. Occasionally, you’ll get out at 4 or 4:30. But you should never count on getting out early.

    -Is there downtime outside of lunch hours where I might be able to bring my laptop and squeeze in some work? Yes– there can be a lot of downtime. You should bring a laptop or at least a book. Note– you will NOT be allowed to have your cell phone if it has a camera on it. They confiscate it in the morning and don’t give it back until you leave for the day (you cannot even get it during your lunch break). I suggest you bring a laptop. If you have an air card, fantastic. There is a wireless signal, but it is sporadic at best.

    -Is the quorum still16 out of 23 – so if I’m sick or I desperately need to go into work once or twice, I could get a day off?– Yes. Most grand jurors occasionally miss a day. As long as you give notice to the supervisor, it isn’t a problem.

    -How does the reimbursement and travel stipend work for federal employees? My HR department has just said to log the time as a special jury duty project code instead of a normal work code, nothing about where I need to turn in my checks or travel stipend (I get the federal public transport subsidy already so I don’t need it).– Not sure. If you still get paid by your employer, you are not allowed to receive the stipend. You only receive the $4 travel voucher each day. If you do not get paid by your employer while you’re on jury duty, you get an additional $35 per day (I believe).

    -Any other tips or suggestions for making it bearable?
    Enjoy it. It’s actually interesting to hear so many different cases. You’re allowed to ask questions; so be active.

    • I’m the person who wrote in (thanks PoP for posting!) –

      In regards to “On your notice, which grand jury are your assigned to (will give you a number between 1-5). That will tell you which type of crimes you normal will hear.”

      Do you know what the numbers (or what number you served on) align to? I am on a Grand 2 jury.

  • I just finished DC grand jury this January. I did the 3 day a week for two months program, but I can give you some insights:

    -Will you always go from 9-5 every day? Or do you sometimes get out early?

    It can sometimes go until 5, but more often than not, we were let out early. The day before Thanksgiving, they let us out at 11 a.m.

    -Is there downtime outside of lunch hours where I might be able to bring my laptop and squeeze in some work?

    Bring your laptop — there is a ton of downtime. There is no wifi in the building, though, so bring an internet card. They will also take your phone away if it has a camera, and keep it all day (no getting it back at lunch).

    -Is the quorum still16 out of 23 – so if I’m sick or I desperately need to go into work once or twice, I could get a day off?

    Quorum is 16 out of 23. If you’re sick or there’s an emergency, just let them know. They’ll give you instructions on who to alert, and they were generally pretty flexible. We sat through all the holidays and never missed quorum.

    -How does the reimbursement and travel stipend work for federal employees? My HR department has just said to log the time as a special jury duty project code instead of a normal work code, nothing about where I need to turn in my checks or travel stipend (I get the federal public transport subsidy already so I don’t need it).

    I’m not sure how the stipend works, but I got checks sent to me for travel expenses ($4/day). Unfortunately, they send checks in $4, $8 and $12 amounts, not lump sums.

    -Any other tips or suggestions for making it bearable?

    Hopefully you’ll have a good group! That can make a huge difference.

  • I’ve only done the regular one-trial jury service, but reading the two replies I had a couple of things to add. First, I’ll wholeheartedly second Maire in thanking you for being willing to do jury duty.

    Second, as Sleepy’s next-to-last point notes, you might see and hear some truly awful things. I sat on a jury for an attempted murder with almost a dozen lesser charges. The victim was shot in the face from a few feet away in a convenience store; the whole thing was captured on the surveillance camera. It’s been 3 or 4 years and I can still roll that tape in my head. I see the store every time I walk to the metro and always think of the shooting. Be prepared to be a little traumatized for a while. I don’t meant to scare you, but I was a little surprised at how hard jury duty was on me mentally. Grand jury might be different, since you’re sending someone to trial rather than convicting them, but it is tough to have someone else’s life in your hands for a few minutes if you have much of a conscience.

    Best of luck.

  • I’ll echo some of the other grand jury comments.

    1- grand jury is NOT LIKE Law and Order. You are only there to indict, NOT TO CONVICT. As in, is it possible that someone was in the area when the robbery happened, not DID it happen. Like the adage goes, you can indict a ham sandwich.

    2-I was on the RIP (Rapid Indictment Process) jury (I think it was #3 – 3x/week) and we heard about 200 cases. My first time was the sex crimes grand jury (5x/week) and we heard about 100 cases. I wanted to drink myself to sleep every night when I was on the sex crimes jury, as you hear mostly horrible horrible horrible cases involving the total dregs of society. Your jury summons will have the grand jury number listed on it. In the RIP jury you hear mostly drug cases from the weekend/night before.

    You will hear bits and pieces of lots of cases – some you will hear from start to finish, but a lot of them you just hear from 1 or 2 witness, esp the complicated homicides.

    3-As a fed, you just get the $4 travel stipend – it gets mailed to you every few weeks.

    4- You will NOT leave early. The scheduling office is a CF involving the attorneys, the availability of a jury, the witnesses, etc. So when there is a jury available, you will hear a case. Bring a book/laptop, but you won’t have a lot of down time, at least not in my 2 experiences. Don’t plan on getting any work done while you are there, as they will bring witnesses in at a moment’s notice. You are at THEIR beck and call, not the other way around.

    5-Most people DO show up on time. As much as I hate GJ, I did my civic obligation and showed up on time. They do take attendance and your HR/boss can get a copy of the sign in/sign out sheet. Why risk it?

    6- It is miserable. You do hear interesting cases and hear from witness that live in a DC very different from what you are probably used to. Most of the jurors will be retired or federal employees. It will become very clear to you very early on how jurors feel about the law. You will hear about witness were “set up” because they sold drugs and how it is entrapment, etc. Hopefully Lutrell Osborne (spp?) is still the liaison for the GJ and he will keep it moving. You do get to question witnesses, if you want and they do not have an attorney present.

    Good luck and indict away!

  • I’ve done it, to answer your questions:

    Some days, but not many, you will get out early, but you can’t predict which days those will be ahead of time.

    There is a CRAP LOAD of downtime. Sometimes the whole day is down time. Not sure if you bring a laptop, may have to ask permission on that one. But definitely bring playing cards, books, music, work, letters to write, knitting, etc. Anything to pass the time.

    You can call in sick, but can’t use other excuses. Just make sure you follow the procedures or they’ll send the Marshals to your house.

    I don’t remember how the stipend works.

    All in all it was a great experience. Met some interesting people in the co-jurors. Got a better understanding of how the criminal justice system in DC works. Heard some interesting (and some not so interesting) cases. Cried my eyes out when a 10 year old witness came in to testify about his dad murdering his mom in front of him. Lots of drug cases. And while it’s true that a ham sandwich would normally get indicted, we voted down one or two on insufficient evidence. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you think the prosecution doesn’t have enough for probable cause.


  • I was on the homicide/major crimes Superior Court grand jury about 4 years ago. All of the individual questions have been answered above, so I’ll just add that it was a wrenching experience…you hear so many terrible, awful stories, every day. Hearing the testimony from witnesses (often loved ones) was heartbreaking. Jurors cried a lot. If you’re lucky, you’ll be on the RIP jury — it’s my understanding that they only hear testimony from one police officer for each case (routine drug cases), and they got to come in later and leave earlier (the arrivals are staggered, so each of the 5 grand juries has a different starting time).

    But from everything I’ve heard, the sex crimes jury was the hardest to serve on. I was the foreperson of my grand jury, so I would go to the courtroom every week, along with the other 4 forepersons, to deliver the indictments to the chief judge. We would chat on the way over, and the sex crimes foreperson (a male Chief of Staff to a Congressman) teared up a couple times while we were talking about his cases. I did my duty — and it’s defnitely everyone’s duty — but I wouldn’t do it again. Seriously, if I get another grand jury summons, I’m not showing up at the courthouse.

  • I did DC Superior Court Grand Jury last spring, fortunately, while I was unemployed and looking for a job. It was very easy to ask and schedule time away, say, for a job interview or to go to the docs or whatever. They really were not too picky as long as you had the 16 people needed for a quorum.

    As others have said, yes, LOTS of down time. I had to buy one of those WI-FI devices for my computer because no cells phones with cameras were allowed (which is, like, ALL cell phones). It was still hard to get the internet in there though.

    I thoroughly enjoyed GJ duty and thought it was fascinating. The cops, some of the lawyers, the perps—really, really interesting stuff. Unfortunately, most of the people on my panel were a bunch of whiners and picked at each other about everything. However, we celebrated birthdays and had political discussions. One time we even locked out the forewoman, who was an uber control freak.

    We rarely got out early and heard 88 cases over the course of 5 and a half weeks. I think we got paid $30 a day plus $4 for metro. Oh, and you have to turn in your cell phone in the morning on the way in (if it has a camera) and you can’t get it back till you leave in the afternoon. but there is a pantry with two regular phones in it if you need to call someone.

    • What about a laptop with a webcam on it? And are you released to the jury waiting room during the downtime, or is your butt in that courtroom chair all day?

      • All laptops are allowed, regardless of webcams or microphones present. It makes no sense, but that’s the court system for you.

        During periods of inactivity, you’re expected to stay close to the juror’s room, and definitely within the building. You aren’t forced to sit in your seat, though.

        Bring a newspaper, books, magazines, etc. It’s a great time to catch up on all the reading you’ve been meaning to do.

  • ah

    I don’t have any experience to share, but they really ought to change that rule about cell phones with cameras. That’s just obnoxious. Yeah, I get that they don’t want people taking pictures of the witnesses, but can’t it be enforced other ways, like with some sort of pass system where you leave your phone in the corner of the GJ room while it’s in session? And with massive penalties if you even try?

    Serving on a jury is a burden. Serving on GJ is an even bigger burden. they ought to find ways to make it a little less painful.

    • If you can’t live without your cell phone for eight hours, you have bigger issues to deal with. Phones are available in the break room for all jurors to use free of charge.

  • Okay, here’s a crazy question: Is there anything I can do to get on a grand jury in DC? I’m one of the oddballs who likes jury duty, and I’ve always wanted to be selected for a grand jury — though the comments I’ve read here about the emotional weight of the experience do give me pause. I’m about due for a jury summons. Anything I can do to nudge my name to the grand jury side?

    • You can volunteer for grand jury duty, I believe. One of the jurors, who was around 19, said she had volunteered. I have no idea how this works. Give DC Courts a buzz. At the very least, you’ll provide some amusement for the clerk.

    • When I was at my juror summons (petit juror) in the waiting room they asked for volunteers for the grand jury.

  • Ok, who is taking away your cell phones? The main security at the entrance or someone in the jurors lounge? I go to DC Superior Court multiple times a month for my regular job, and they never take away my cell phone (which obviously has a camera). But I have a summons for grand jury duty in May, and all this info has been really helpful. I have no issues serving on the jury, but I’m stressed about fitting my 50+ job into two days/week. My summons is for Grand 4, what does that mean?

    • Grand jury for DC Superior court takes place at a different building. The guard at the entrance of the US Attorney’s office is taking your phone after you pass through the metal detector.

      Grand 4 is just the group number you are assigned to, along with 22 other jurors. There are five grand juries in session at any given time. I do not believe your number necessarily dictates what types of cases you’ll hear.

      • I just did grand jury 4 — it’s mostly Rapid Indictment Procedures (RIP) cases, which will be short cases with one witness, usually a cop. They are usually about drugs or guns. We heard around 150 cases in our two months.

  • Glad they don’t telecast all this horrible mess. Is there a way to refuse service on the grounds of a real fear of permanent emotional and psychological harm?

    Too bad they can’t let trained, sanctioned, and registered on-line users weigh in with their votes, or at least provide psych treatment to those randomly chosen for forced exposed to what sounds like god awful vivid horror. Is there a way to put a public bounty fee on serving on jury indictment panels, some users could rack up a fortune!?

    • You might be able to pull off a refusal on the grounds of psychological or emotional harm if you’re currently seeing a clinician who will write you a note. I doubt that the clerk will just take your word at face value and let you walk.

      I did hear some gruesome and extremely sad testimony, and saw some pictures of dead people (coroner’s report – one guy was a bit carved up, too).

      Even if you are selected, you don’t have to be there if everyone else shows up. There were two or three people consistently not present in our group. One lady made it in a whopping three days before never showing up again. I found it to be an interesting experience and arrived every day.

  • I served two years ago for a 3 days on for 8 weeks. Even though it was psychologically difficult for me, I am happy to have the experience especially since it opened up a part of DC I would have never experienced. There really needs to be some post-counseling services for grand jurors. Most of my group asked about such services but there are none. Almost every night I got home from duty I had to drink myself to sleep just to get rid of some of the images. I still have nightmares from one case in particular.

    Do bring a laptop and do invest in an air card. It will make the waiting time go sooo much quicker. Also, be prepared to gain some weight. If your group is anything like my group, people will be bringing in some delicious food for potluck lunches. Oh my gawd. Those were some delicious calories.

    Also, The Building Museum is a great place to go to waste lunch hour on a rainy day.

  • It’s interesting, all this psychological impact on the jurors. Now imagine growing up in the neighborhoods with all this crime going on day to day, possibly right inside your house. Severely traumatic. Take whatever you felt as a juror and multiply it by a thousand, on a regular basis. Sheds some light on why a lot of these kids grow up to be violent, angry people.

  • A couple years ago I served on the 5 day a week grand jury. Our jury heard the major crimes, including several high profile cases that had been all over the news. It was a very interesting experience – learned a new vernacular, economic system, and geography. A couple things to keep in mind:

    1. you’re not deciding guilt.

    2. make sure the foreman isn’t a total clown. Our foreman couldn’t keep the vote count straight and regularly asked us to vote on charges not actually sought by the DA.

    3. be prepared for some ridiculous questions asked by your fellow panel members.

    4. your service can be extended. what was originally scheduled for 5 or 6 weeks actually lasted 8 or 9 weeks. in my case, we had heard from a bunch of witnesses and read testimony over several weeks, and the DA really didn’t want to have to re-introduce all the evidence to another panel. our jury duty was extended until we reached a decision to indict or not. And, know that several months later you can still be called back in on a case.

    5. You’ll be amazed at how dumb some criminals are, but be prepared to be scared, saddened, disgusted, and amazed. There is some really, really horrible sh*t that happens in this town. Some truly evil, viscious, and cruel people live in this world and the things they are capable of can be very disturbing. Some cases are boring, some are tragic (especially when the victim gives testimony), and some cases may give you nightmares.

  • what is grand jury 5? should i expect lots of crack heads or drive bys? or a grab bag?

    i’ve only lived in dc for several months, but have gotten to experience the joys of rampant crime, higher taxes, and devoting 1/12th of the year to the prospect of serving on a grand jury.

  • How about grand jury 4? Also, is there a jury selection for the grand jury or are you automatically in – I’m asking b/c my husband is a public defender so I probably wouldn’t be picked in a regular jury during the selection, do they do the voire dire for grand juries too?

  • sogood –

    i’m guessing we’ll be working together, since we’re apparently googling ‘DC grand jury how much does it suck’ or something on 8 march. just please don’t give me the sex crimes one, DC.

  • Here is the scoop on the Grand 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 numbers, straight from the court specialist’s mouth:
    Grand 1 is the sex crimes jury.
    Grand 2 and Grand 5 are murder and violent crime.
    Grand 3 and Grand 4 are Rapid Indictment Program (RIP) juries; mainly theft and drug crimes.

    Now, this only applies if you have a full docket of cases of that nature for your GJ; otherwise, if it’s an off or slow day, for example, any US Attorney with any case will just grab the first GJ that’s available. We heard mainly murder and attempted murders on Grand 2, but occasionally we also got a theft or possession case, usually on slow Fridays.

  • I just found this thread. Thank you for all of the great insight. I start Grand Jury (group 2) service on Monday as well. EE – guess I’ll see you there!

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