Another Reader’s Experience Serving on Grand Jury Duty

Photo by PoPville flickr user Rukasu1

“Dear PoPville,

5 weeks of grand jury duty. My question is for those out here who have served on it, what was their experience? In the first two weeks I honestly felt like a prisoner. Lawyers come in and out of the room all day long without asking a simple “Do you need five minutes?” We have 130 people on one floor with a dirty mini fridge for all our meals which influences us to go out eat every day and spend mega money. The bathroom conditions are abominable and OSHA would have a field take on the ventilation in this building. After witnessing a child sex abuse case you really want a quiet place which there are none of in this building.

Hence again going outside in the rain to collect yourself. I won’t or maybe I can’t go into the 120 some odd trials I witnessed but it was everything under the sun. After the third week when I walked home (that was plus) everyone looked like a criminal or victim to me. In a juror’s case a witness or a defendant. It was weird seeing witnesses at the grocery story or bar I went to. The only saving grace was the 22 other jurors I served with. They were incredible, versatile, smart , objective, crazy, old, black, white, grandmas, students etc… And they were hilarious! We had a ball in the nasty stuffy room for five weeks. If I had to do it over again? I would. Thanks!”

Ed. Note: We have previously discussed jury duty here and here.

38 Comment

  • Gotta ask: Any councilmen or their friends summoned to your courtroom?

  • THe grand jury system is the biggest waste of time in the US justice system. Holding citizen jurors hostage for months on end (sometimes up to 6 months), for a system where the prosecution is simply asking you to decide if they can *bring* their case — and where the defense is not only uninvited, but often unaware it’s happening. WHat do you think the grand jury does 99.9% of the time, given that only 1 side gets to tell its story? ALmost always, they issue an indictment. It’s a waste fo time and money and if we did away with it no one would would be worse off. Sorry you got caught up in it.

    • “99.9% of the time”

      Would love to see where your stats come from.

      However, they do serve as a necessary check between an overzealous prosecution, and innocent people being hauled prosecuted on charges where no evidence exists.

    • I have to say that your assessment of grand jury service is not in line with my experience. Maybe 5 out of 50+ cases did not show any sort of factual basis and were shut down by us. The other 45-ish all sounded like horrible people were headed towards jail for a long time.

      Now should there be a literacy test for serving on a jury? Hell yes! Easily 50% of our jurors were incompetent for the task at hand.

    • I’ll add to these comments that not only did we certainly not indict 99% of the time, (though yes there were more indictments than not,) but grand jury serves as a way for prosecutors & police to figure out the case. There were many times that they were quite surprised at what came out when a witness was placed under oath, & it changed the entire investigation, sometimes very seriously. The system could certainly use some tweaking, but I think it is a necessary part of the process.

    • ah

      I think it’s one of the greatest protections against injustice in our system, the only one greater being petit juries.

      While grand juries may indict a large percentage of the time, that’s a testament to a system that can screen out lousy cases so the DA doesn’t bring them in the first place. Without a grand jury there would be a lot more crappy cases against people who probably shouldn’t be the defendant. But without the screening mechanism they may get caught up.

  • I’m glad you liked your other jurors, but I did 5 weeks of grand jury and in my case, we had a bad group. People were late every morning (we never had a quorum before 9:45), were sleeping (snoring) and eating while witnesses were testifying, badgering witnesses (especially police officers), and one woman was even selling bootlegged DVDs to other jurors IN THE JURY ROOM. One guy didn’t show up for days in a row but the only consequence was a letter sent to his house. The foreman tried to control things and asked for help from the juror services staff but no one ever tried to stop people from acting like bratty rude children.

    If I had a good group like you did, it wouldn’t have been as bad. I’d do it again because it’s my civic duty, but it is also DEFINITELY a flawed system. Why can’t a judge or a panel of judges determine probable cause? It seems like a waste of money and also very one sided in favor of the prosecutors.

    • Oh, and yes, the kitchen and bathrooms in the grand jury building are AWFUL. And you forgot about the biggest indignity – they confiscate your cell phone at the door if it has a camera on it. You do NOT get it back to use outside of the building on lunch/breaks – only at the end of the day. There is some ridiculous premise that you may use it to take photos of jurors/witnesses…even though they DO let people bring in laptops/iPads that also have cameras on them. Cell phones without cameras are OK…I learned that because some of those jerk jurors had theirs on during witness testimony (despite the HUGE “TURN CELLPHONES OFF” signs because it wrecks the court reporters’ tape recordings). They would answer the calls and text while witnesses were giving statements!

    • This sounds exactly like the experience I had during my 5 weeks of grand jury. Our group definitely didn’t bond. Not only were many jurors sleeping, eating during testimony, habitually showing up late and being generally disruptive, several also asked horribly inappropriate and irrelevant questions of witnesses (the prosecutors usually intervened, but at that point the damage is done). Part of the problem is that the courts system does a terrible job of explaining what “probable cause” means.

      We saw a large number of sex crimes/abuse cases and I was truly shocked at some the comments made about the victims. Every person is entitled to their own opinion, but it often made me wonder if there should be some sort of screening process for grand jurors besides being a DC resident and not being a recent felon.

    • I must admit I did fall asleep at 2PM and did snore so now my husband is proved right.. sigh..

  • Everyone I’ve known that’s served grand jury duty has needed therapy to deal with the overload of depravity they’ve had to listen to. It sounds absolutely horrifying to me. Superior court jury duty isn’t exactly a party, but at least it’s only one case.

  • Just finished 5 weeks of grand jury duty as well, & would echo most of what the OP & others have said. This is my second time serving as a juror, & will move out of DC before I serve again – every 2 years is just too much. You’re overwhelmed with endless atrocities, & end up looking at everyone sideways. Im all for doing my civic duty, & it was interesting in certain ways, but taking 5 weeks off of work threw myself & my company off. You are now not allowed to bring in ANY electronic devices; that rule changed about 3 days into our service because of a security breach, so no getting any work done whatsoever while on break. After a mentally exhausting day, the last thing you want to do is work, but if you want to keep your job that’s what you do. I’ll add that I think the US Attorneys we dealt with were very impressive – they juggle dozens of cases & are (usually) incredibly patient with some of the more over-enthusiastic jurors. The jury pool is incredibly mixed – some great people, some not-so-great. All-in-all it was something Im glad I did, but will not do it again. (Also I wish I didn’t know some of the crimes my neighbors are accused of!!)

  • I served in March 2010, which was a great way to fill my time after I had just been laid off. I think I’m one of the few who found it to be a thoroughly fascinating experience!

    My biggest complaint was that we had a bunch of whiners on our jury and a control freak for a foreman (I guess that’s the type that volunteers). But one funny thing she did was ask a witness, who was brought in in handcuffs because he was currently in the DC jail, to raise his right hand. Well, they were shackled to his waist. We all laughed, and so did our little prisoner, who actually was charming and bright, and we hated it that he had wound up behind bars.

    I can see how it would be stressful if you were having to balance it with your job, but that wasn’t an issue for me.

    We heard 88 cases, and some of them were dull, dull, dull. But others were pretty interesting, and I enjoyed some of the characters we met both the accused perps, the attys, and the witnesses.

    I’d do it again and didn’t think it a waste of time, and I learned A LOT. Although I totally agree about the lack of cell phone/communication with the outside.

  • How do you get picked for jury duty? I’m registered to vote, have DC license, and own a house and I’ve not been picked. *knock on wood*. I’m not generally this lucky in life.

    • andy

      Have you been here for more than 2 years with a license and everything?

      • Soon. But I’ve been many other places for more than 2 years and I was only called to a jury once, when I was in college. Its weird.

      • I lived in DC for five years before I got called in for jury duty. For the entirety of those five years, I was registered to vote, had a DC license, and all that. Don’t worry, your time to serve will come.

    • I went almost 8 years before being called up for normal jury duty.

      Was the last person disqualified from being seated as an alternate.

      Defense teams don’t like guys in suits is what I gathered from those of us bounced.

  • They’ll find you, don’t worry.

  • i want to thank you for your service. i was a victim of a carjacking last summer and appeared before a grand jury last month. i found the jurors (who weren’t asleep) to be kind, caring, concerned fellow citizens. it could have been a really awful experience (reliving what happened to me), but it was actually nice. i got a lot of sympathy and respect. i know it’s not an easy job, so thanks. i believe my assailant will have his day in court (and be sentenced).

  • If you can’t/don’t want to do grand jury its pretty easy to get out of… I was summoned for grand jury duty (5 days a week) in the middle of a big project at work. It proved very easy to get out of with a note from my boss asking I be moved down to petit jury so that I could still fufil my civic duty without posing a hardship on my company. The clerk agreed without question and I went into the petit pool that day, wasn’t picked and was out of there in a day.

  • Everyone I have talked to in different jurisdictions has either never been called or like me gets called regularly. I have never been called for grand jury but I did get called a number of years ago for Federal District Court. I am almost positive it related to the Cisneros case where he was accused of lying to the FBI during background checks (case settled a day before it went to trial) because a bit in the WaPo made note that they had a huge jury pool because of the nature of the case.

    Currently I am serving for the US District Ct. for the District of Columbia which is 2 weeks of calling in the day before. Haven’t been brought in yet, knock on wood.

  • Boo Hoo. I’m sorry you had a rough time and felt like a “prisoner” while sitting in a room listening to the testimony of people who actually are prisoners or victims.

    Stop trying to play the victim of your civic duty. You got to walk out of there every day. Besides whatever uncomfortable conditions you had to deal with, you didn’t actually have to experience the horrors of the testimony you heard.

    Thank you for serving your civic duty, but quit your whining. There is far worse out there.

    • Prince Of Petworth

      It’s interesting which section of the note that we choose to focus on – I was focused on the part where they said:

      “the 22 other jurors I served with. They were incredible, versatile, smart , objective, crazy, old, black, white, grandmas, students etc… And they were hilarious! We had a ball in the nasty stuffy room for five weeks. If I had to do it over again? I would. Thanks!”

      • ah


        I hope someone from DC Courts reads the first part of the post and thinks about making the GJ accommodations better.

        I’ve found in the last 10 years of my biennial jury service, the courts have gotten a lot more accommodating in terms of facilities for regular jurors, with such things as the quiet (work) room, wireless access, and generally a more flexible attitude.

      • True, I focused on the 3/4 of the post that was negative.

        I’m glad the OP found his/her fellow jurors a redeeming aspect of the experience. But I can’t help but be frustrated by the OP’s self victimization when there are actual victims of crimes that receive the exact same treatment. Only instead of sitting in a room all day listening to other people’s stories, they have to stand in front of a room full of strangers and tell their story.

        The thing that still stands out in my mind from the last time I was called for jury duty was the clusters of families, lawyers, clients, witnesses, etc, gather along the walkway outside before having their chance in court. The court system doesn’t give “quiet place” for them, why do you expect it for jurors.

        • Prince Of Petworth

          It’s an interesting experiment – we both read the same exact thing but got two completely different take aways. I’m sure that happens a lot.

          • Exactly .. I guess what I really was focusing on was the grand jury forum 23 wonderful DC resisents and not 12 angry men .

        • Because he is there for 5 weeks, as opposed to a portion of a day. He is there unpaid, to help society. I think it is fair to expect a place for a little quiet time during breaks, especially when you are hearing the things previously mentioned.

          • not unpaid. I think we made $30 a day. Or was it a week? Plus, the $4 in metro fare, which didn’t cover metro fare. but whatever.

          • *Virtually unpaid*

            Not railing to say that jury members should be paid, simply saying they should have accomodations at least equal to a 2 star hotel lobby, and it seems like that was not the case.

  • You would do it again!? Glutton for punishment this one.

  • I did five weeks of grand jury duty a couple years ago. It was such a mix of experiences it’s hard to really summarize it if you haven’t gone through it. Some days I felt like I was at the police academy–learning all sorts of things from law enforcement folks that I had never had to know before (drug terminology, criminal tactics, etc). Some days it felt like law school. Some days it felt like we were getting degrees in social work or criminology. And sometimes it was a window into the school of hard knocks….learning how close some people live to the edge, where just one more bad thing can completely unravel their life. Politicians should have to sit through grand jury duty.

    My jury could not possibly have been more diverse. We had 2 people who were sufficiently wealthy to have retired while in their forties. We also had six people who didn’t have bank accounts, so they were cashing their jury duty checks at check cashing places and getting ripped off by the fees. One Saturday a fellow juror helped three of the people on our jury open bank accounts. We were a mix of Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, young/old, etc. And after a couple weeks of getting to know each other, we really bonded as a group in a way that I would never have predicted. I became friends with people whose lives might seem, on paper, to be really different from mine, but (and I hate to sound trite) we really did have more in common than different. On the last day of jury duty many people exchanged phone numbers, and I have several friends I made then who I still stay in touch with.

    Being out of work for five weeks wasn’t easy, obviously, but by far the most difficult thing was trying to get through some of the testimony, particularly when it involved children. One night after a particularly harrowing day of testimony from children I went home and cried for hours in a way that I’d never done before. It was just that bad.

    One other thing- many of the assistant US attorneys we dealt with were excellent, as were all of the staff who worked with us over the five weeks we were there. I thought it was hard listening to bad stuff for five weeks; these people do it for years, and somehow do it without losing their compassion.

  • we should consider ourselves lucky that grand jury in DC is only 5 weeks…my brother just served on a grand jury for 3 1/2 months in Massachusetts!! They only met 3 days a week, Tuesdays – Thursdays, but still it was a long haul especially since he runs his own business (apparently that wasnt a good enough reason to be excused in MA). He said the same thing many of you have, that listening to child abuse and sexual assault cases all day was realy difficult to handle and he had to put a lot of effort into shutting that out at night and on the weekends. But they didn’t confiscate his ipad, so theres that.

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