From the Forum – Grand Jury Service in DC

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Grand Jury Service in DC:

“I just received a summons for 5 weeks of grand jury duty service in DC. Is anyone familiar with what the commitment actually is? Meaning, assuming I get selected, should I expect not to be at work for 5 weeks, or is it potentially a more fluid commitment (e.g., not every day or every week over that period)? Any info would be appreciated.”

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50 Comment

  • Plan to be there every day. When there a year ago all electronics were banned from entering. No cell phones, no laptops.

    Bring lots of reading material. There were days when we spent more time waiting than doing anything else.

    • This! Except if you have a cell phone that does not have a camera, they allowed those when I was there a couple of years back. Also get ready to have your mind blow by the unfathomable stupidity / cruelty / dregs of humanity. I would recommend the building museum as a distraction during lunch.

      • Cell phone no longer allowed at all. I finish my last day of grand jury duty on Wednesday. No electronics allowed at all. It’s in a federal building and DC courts don’t have control over building rules.

  • They’re pretty flexible if you need to miss a day here and there, as long as you give them a heads up and as long as a lot of people don’t take the same days off.

  • I’m not sure if it was the same court as your summons, but I was called for a three week stretch of service, and only even had to show up twice. They would post online the night before to let you know if you had to go in. I sat through a selection process but they got a full jury before they got to me, so I never ended up on a trial.

    • I believe you refer to federal jury duty. This person asks about grand jury service, which is different (I think).

      • Yup – must be a different court – I really can’t keep them straight. Mine must have been Federal district court.

    • Yep, there’s a difference between federal grand jury and DC superior grand jury. I think the federal one is where you check in the night before (or so I’ve heard). DC Superior court sits about 5 juries at any given time. Your jury summons will mention whether you are scheduled to meet Mon-Fri or Wed-Fri (or other…). I was able to go into work Mondays and Tuesdays, and go to jury duty on Wednesdays through Fridays.

  • You have to be there every day. My husband just completed grand jury duty last fall. He was not allowed to bring in electronics and usually got an hour for lunch. Some days they were let out early but there was never any predictability. He was reading stuff for work at the beginning, but halfway through, when it got slow, he and his fellow jurors starting watching movies to kill time. He thought it was the greatest thing ever and hopes to get called many more times!

  • I had this last Feb. There was another forum on this as well. there are 5 jury’s – three meet 5 days a week, and two meet 3 days a week (but I guess for a longer time altogether). I had the M-F for 5 weeks. You also will have two recall days that come about a month after your service that are mandatory. They pick 23 (I think) people for a room and only 16 have to be present each day for proceedings to take place. They have a “vacation” type calender and usually let you mark a few days out if you have an important meeting at work, vacation planned…. you just cant take off like twice a week. I could write for days on this subject – but electronics are banned – even an ipod. I would get buzzed drinking most days during lunch and even come back an hour late a few times. Lots of downtime where you aren’t needed.

    • ^^model citizen

      • Well, I mean I didn’t get tanked every day or anything, just a couple beers. I could still focus and understand everything. There was a few of us that would go out. Just to add….

        You only need 12 out of 23 people to vote “yes” for the case to go to trial. You don’t even need to think they are guilty, just that there may have been a chance that could have happened. 100% of the 80+ cases I heard went to trial. Its pretty much a large waste of time and resources, poorly organized, and not the best “working” conditions. Its a lot worse than cubical life. No windows, no electronics. just sitting in a small $20 Office depot chair for hours on end in a tiny room with random annoying people.

  • I just finished grand jury service. It was actually a great experience for what it was. Missing work/catching up on work all night was awful though.

    The Grand jury needs 16 people to show up every day for a quorum. I believe there’s 23 people selected, so that allows each member flexibility to miss a day here and there or make a doctor’s appointment. You’re not allowed to access your cell phone during the day, even at lunch, so you’re very cut off from the world until you’re released at 5:00.

    Good luck, and just power through it. If you get on the right jury, you’ll hear some really interesting cases and have insight into the city and the justice system that you just can’t get any other way.

  • I had grand jury duty at the end of 2012. Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday, 9-5, for 7 weeks (we got lucky: we got off for Christmas). No electronics of any kind: no phones, no laptops, no kindles, no iPods. Hours and hours of time where you are doing nothing. Many days when you are hearing cases back to back all day. It’s pretty depressing. If you have some cool people in the jury it would make the time go faster. This was not the case with me. On average we’d get out by 4:30, but sometimes we’d have to stay the entire time. We couldn’t start without quorum, so when people were late we just kept sitting around and waiting. There are almost no good lunch options around there, so I took to bringing my lunch and sitting in the National Building Museum atrium. Or if you have errands to run you can leg it up to the Verizon Center. Basically, I’m sorry. Here’s hoping that you don’t actually have to do that.

    • For lunch… nothing really around the courthouse (just an awful cafeteria with a pizza, Mexican, and burger place… it was awful) but if you walk a few extra blocks there are some good options, such as Taylor Gourmet, Chipotle, everything around the Verizon Center, ABP, Potbelly’s.

      • Agreed! And after being cooped up in an airless, windowless room it is nice to get out and take a walk.

      • Chop’t, Paul, ABP, Cosi, Wiseguys, Protein Bar, Merzi, Teaism, Potbelly, Taylor, Hill Country, Luke’s Lobster, Momoyama, PQST, Firehook, Fuel, Graffiato/Daikaya (a bit further), etc. I would say there is pretty much the standard stuff you would find anywhere. If you want nicer (i.e., sit down), there is the Source, 701, Rasika, SEI, Cedar, Oyamel, Fiola, Jaleo, etc.

      • The Department of Labor and District Court both have nice cafeterias.

  • I had grand jury service this past summer (M-F, 5 weeks). No electronics allowed (you can leave your cell phone upon entering the building but you cannot remove it until the end of the day, not even during lunch break). You can bring a laptop which they can store for the day if you have special permission (I had to bring my work laptop to go directly to the office after jury duty in a couple of occasions, but you need permission). No kindles!

    You will have A LOT of downtime. Bring books, cards, crossword puzzles, etc. for entertainment. We had a great crew and it was great to see all these friendships come together. We watched movies, went to lunch together, there was a crew always playing Uno.

    You will be dismissed by 5pm at the latest every day. Most of the time, it will be earlier, but you cannot predict when that will happen because it depends on the attorney’s and witnesses’s schedules. You get 2 15-minute breaks (where you can leave the building for a cigarette or coffee break) and an hour long lunch break. The grand jury lounge has a fridge and a couple of microwave ovens in case you want to bring your lunch. They have a few vending machines in the building.

    Selection process: about 50 people were summoned for my grand jury cohort. After the people with excuses were dismissed (such as those that have health problems or are self employed and wouldn’t make a living/salary), we had 24 people remaining. We only needed 23, so one person called dibs and was excused. The 23 rest of us served during the 5 weeks + 2 recall days.

    Yup on the calendar. I was able to schedule off pre-planned vacations as well as leave one day that I had to catch up on work.

  • I had grand jury duty this past fall – the 5 week summons means you’ll be there every day, and the info already given about electronics and requesting time away is right on. Our jury had lots of downtime – we read, did puzzles, played games and watched a lot of movies between witnesses. It was really interesting, and enlightening. Be prepared that it can be very taxing emotionally – my jury heard all kinds of serious felonies and a couple of sexual assaults (those typically have their own grand jury, but occasionally due to witness availability the cases go before a “regular” grand jury). My initial curiosity about the legal process was eventually replaced by emotional fatigue at all the sad stories behind the crimes presented. It definitely got me out of my “DC yuppie” bubble. My group saw more than 50 cases in the 5 weeks we were there. The court staff were really nice and pleasant, and made the experience as painless as possible. I’m glad I did it, but am in no hurry to do it again.

    • I agree with you. Learning about the judicial system (gaitherizing, anyone?) was super interesting. The cases were interesting too, although some were sad, horrifying, and others were just ridiculous & angering. It was emotionally taxing. I made the mistake of reading an emotional book while I was there, but after that I decided that only funny/lighthearted books were needed.

      The staff was great and helpful.

  • Pretty well covered by folks above. I would add that it is also add that unless you can demostrate a financial hardship, it’s pretty tough to get out of (harder than regular jury duty). And yes, it is every day for 5 weeks, although you can get the occasional day off (for work stuff or previously scheduled vacation) although they usually want some sort of documentation for this (copy of travel itinerary or note from work). You do have to go every day (i.e. there are no days that everyone has off).

    I will reiterate that if you bring a cell phone you have to surrender it when you enter the buiding and cannot get it back until the end of the day. There are land lines you can use to make short calls when you have a break.

    I would disagree about lack of good lunch options. Plenty of restaurants within a 5 block walk.

    As someone said, there are days that you aren’t very busy. Reading material is good. Another tip is that although they will not officially tell you that you are allowed to, the TV/DVD player in the jury room can be used to watch movies while you are on break (i.e. this is not condoned, but they don’t care if you do it).

    If your job doesn’t pay you while you are gone, you get $30 per day. You also get a $4/day transportation subsidy, which unless you are are taking the bus, does not cover your transportation.

  • tonyr

    Sort of related – I just finiashed regular jury service (petit) and am now excused for two years. Does this mean that I’m also excused from grand jury, and Federal for that matter, service too?

      • I don’t think this is correct. You are excused for two years from serving on a D.C. Court petit jury but can still be called to serve on a federal jury (and though I don’t know from my own experience, probably also a grand jury).

        • Bruno is correct. A few years ago I served on a petit jury for six weeks. Not long after the trial at least two of the other jury members got called for grand jury service. I know that one of them successfully got out of it by writing a letter and asking that their six weeks of dedicated service count as their civic duty for a while. I think it might have been one of the self employed folks who was on my panel, so that might have helped.

    • No, you definitely do not get out of whichever one you have not yet served on.

  • Why do they make you serve 5 weeks? That’s an insane amount of time. Why don’t they just do one or two week service requirements? The 5 week requirement is a massive burden on working individuals.

    • Honestly, from a legal system perspective it should be longer than 5 weeks (and technically you are empaneled for 8 months(?), but they only ask you to serve for 27 days).

      Many cases are in the investigation stage and investigations take months, not weeks.

      As a result, there are many cases that GJ are asked to vote on in which they have not heard most of the key witnesses (i.e. only read transcripts). That makes thing much more difficult.

      • Unfortunately it’s 18 months not 8! Ask me how I know… You will understand why it’s 5 weeks when you get there, much easier for one jury to hear all the evidence in any given case than to read transcripts for days. It’s an experience that you won’t forget.

    • It takes a long time for the US Attorney’s office to present evidence to a grand jury – you will probably see the same attorney present on the same case multiple times during your service. If they don’t get all the evidence in front of a jury, then they have to re-present the evidence to another jury before it can be voted it. It really delays the process.

  • I was called for grand jury duty in 2011 and managed to get out of it.

    About 45 people who had been called showed up on the first day and they only needed 23, so they asked for a show of hands of who needed to be excused and then took each of them in a back room to hear their reasons. I kept count of how many people were left, and when there were about 25 people left and they still needed to cut people, I went in and said I’d be happy to switch to petit (regular) jury duty instead. I didn’t get chosen for a petit jury, so I went home at around 3pm the first day and was done. For what it’s worth, I think there were two or three people who asked early on to be excused that didn’t get it granted, so wait until they’ve gotten through all the legitimate excuse people and are just looking to make some additional cuts.

    • I got called up for March. Did you bring a letter or anything? I work for an organization with a small staff and would love to get out of serving. I was thinking of bringing a note from my boss to try to see if I could get out of it.

      I did serve on the grand jury once 15 years ago so I have done my part but it’s just really hard to see how I can take off 5 weeks now. I’m really not trying overstate my own importance but when a staff is really small, it’s hard to have one person off for that long.

      • No, I didn’t bring a letter. I think the reason I got out was based solely on the fact that twice as many people showed up as they needed–and I have no idea how common that is. The decisions were made by an administrative-type court employee (maybe a bailiff?), and from what I could tell she just got to decide who stayed and who went. I think she kept a few people who had crappy excuses at the beginning in order to be able to hear everyone who wanted to talk to her, and by the time I went in she was just looking to get rid of people. Plus, I think offering to do petit jury instead made me sound a little less like I thought I was too important to be there.

      • I think bringing a letter is a good idea. I’m surprised at the number of comments noting how difficult it was to be dismissed from grand jury duty–it must depend heavily upon the size of the pool (mine had 50 people, I believe), the number of people lining up with excuses and maybe the leniency of the grand jury specialist (the court employee who hears the excuses and decides whether to keep or dismiss you). From what I saw, the specialist let go everyone who sat down with her to ask for dismissal–maybe she was very understanding, maybe she just needed to cull the pool down to 23 any old way. I asked to be excused based on work conflicts–I wasn’t sure whether it would be accepted, since I’m not self-employed/would still get paid, but I was dismissed and sent to one-day petit jury service. So if you do have work conflicts, I can’t imagine a letter could hurt you!

    • tonyr

      During the voir dire process of my (petit) jury service we all had to approach the judge for a discussion. One women walked up and promptly burst into tears. She was promptly dismissed, and left still sobbing. I also walked to the courthouse each day and pocketed the $4, thus sticking it to the man.

      • There is no voir dire process for grand jury.

        One woman told the judge that she couldn’t serve on a homicide grand jury because a close family member was murdered. She was NOT dismissed.

  • I was on the 5 week, m-f grand jury this summer, assigned to sexual/domestic violence cases.

    NO electronics what-so-ever inside the building
    Some days you go all day.
    Other days you’re out by 2pm.
    We got out around 330pm 3/5 days a week
    You hear some really terrible cases that shake you up and make you hate humanity
    You also do A LOT of reading past transcripts out loud in order to be able to vote on them
    They’re flexible with days off
    Expect to watch movies
    Go to the library and get a bunch of books–you’ll burn through them
    We sent 100% of our 80+ cases to trial–it was never even a contest as to “will we or won’t we,” just more of how big a margin.
    *You can get out of it if work won’t pay you your salary–claim financial hardship on the first day you are told to report.
    You also learn A LOT about DC, neighborhoods, and social problems in this city
    Also, be prepared to have a jury with some VERY annoying/slow people on it–you’re voting to send to trail, not on their guilt/innocence…

    • I was on a grand jury and we voted no on 2 of 84 cases. Sometimes the prosecutors just don’t have a case. Hell sometimes you can’t even tell if anyone is telling the truth at all about anything.

  • OP here. Thanks everyone for your feedback. It sounds…pretty awful, and that’s coming from someone who actually has an interest in being on a jury. At least I have a month and a half to prepare myself for it.

    • Look at your paperwork closely. There’s a difference between U.S. District Court Grand Jury, U.S. Disctrict Court Petit Jury (Prettyman bldg — 333 Const. NW), and jury services at D.C. Superior courts (Moultrie bldg –500 Indiana NW), and the experiences are different for all. Grand Jury indicits cases (pre-trial, no verdict), listenes to lots of cases, is a jury of 23, and serves a couple times a week (T/Th, or M-W-F), which means you’ll be at your job the other days. If it’s Petit service, that’s one case, a smaller jury and you’ll be scheduled to report everyday. They’ll probably give you a hotline phone number to call after 6pm which tells you what time to show up the next day — and that’s the only advance notice you’ll get. You want to serve for Grand at the Prettyman building, where they are much nicer to serving jurors and you can escape to Hamilton’s for $1 High Life’s/PBR’s around the corner for lunch (I’m sober as a bird yer honor, ‘hic’). Service at the Moultrie building is pure s-show, but it’s close to Penn Sports Pub…

      • There is a voir dire chosen for all juries, btw. You can be picked as part of the voir dire (you’ll be an “approved” juror to serve) for Grand, but you may not be picked for the original jury panel — you will then be considered an “alternate” in case one of the original panel jurors has to leave; usually a family hardship gets you out of service (sick parent/child). You can even be called as an alternate during the last week of jury service. All the court cares about is having a legal quorum to conduct business, and that requires enough jurors present at the courthouse.
        Go into it with an open mind since you’ll be gaining a temporary (and slightly disfunctional) little family for awhile. You’ll probably be fascinated with the complexity and simplicity of it all. Grand Jury service was one of those great experiences that you’ll always remember and never want to do again… Good luck!

        • This is wrong. There are no alternate for grand jury and there is no voir dire. Trust me, I just served.

        • kiki

          Nope. False, everyone that was called in with me for Grand Jury Duty had to serve. I think only 2 people were sent home, and that was because they summoned a couple of extras just in case. The lady said “we don’t care if you’re a doctor, a teacher, or whatever, if you’re here, and you’re physically capable of serving, you’re serving.”

  • I know someone who served recently on Mon-Weds but for more weeks to total the same number of days.

  • I’m on grand jury now. If you are selected, and everyone is unless you have a good reason you cannot serve, you will serve the full 5 weeks.

  • i feel you dude. i got a summons this year for a trial expected to be ‘at least 8 weeks’. my boss was increasingly frantic because she too had served on a grand jusry – for a 6 week trial that was originally supposed to be 3.

    luckily when i called in the week before i was to report, i learned the trial had been cancelled and i was dismissed. so keep your hopes up.

    • A Grand Jury looks at a multitude of cases, and then decided whether to indict or not. They do not decide guilt or innocence. I think you are confusing Grand and Petit juries.

  • kiki

    I had Grand Jury duty this past fall. You’re automatically in it. There’s no selection process like there is for petit jury. They take your phone in the morning, and you can’t get it back until the end of the day. No electronics, not even ipods or kindles. There’s 23 of you total, and you need to have at least 16 people there in order for them to present cases. You’ll likely have several cases a day. If you have it for 5 weeks, you most likely have to be there 5 days a week. But if you have some sort of pre-planned vacation, etc. You’ll be able to request off, just like you could with work. I had it for 3 days a week for 8 weeks, but I was able to take off a few days for a wedding. And another guy took off two whole weeks for a work trip he had. I totally panicked when I realized I had to be there 3 days a week for 8 weeks, and I’m not going to lie, work-wise it really sucked because I had to make up for it when I got out (Hello 16 hour days!) but it wasn’t terribly horrible. I got a lot of reading done because you have time between cases, and I actually enjoyed walking around at lunch and reading, and learned to live without my phone.

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