View Full Version : Technical or scientific occupations=get-out-of-jury-duty-free card?

Spectre of Pithecanthropus
12-03-2003, 05:41 PM
I just finished my annual ritual of waiting about in the jury lounge, being herded to a courtroom, answering mundane questions, and finally getting dismissed. The way they proceed is to bring about forty people into a courtroom. They introduce the counsel and the defendant, and seat a number people in the jury box. These people are asked the mundane questions mentinoed above, after which the attorneys for both sides exercise their privileges of excusing the prospective jurors for cause or peremptorily. As people in the jury box get dismissed, others are called in to take their place. In this way I eventually made to Seat 9 of the prospective jury.

I've done jury duty three or four times, and not once have I made it past voir dire and been seated in an actual jury. I'm a programmer analyst, and I noticed that several engineers and a space scientist also got bounced in rapid succession. The defense bounced me, and I don't remember who bounced the others, though I think it was the defense in those cases as well.

The happy ending, you might say. Jury duty is usually perceived as an onerous intrusion into one's daily routine. But I'd like to be an actual juror at least once, and was disappointed to be dismissed.

So what's the scoop? Is it likely my occupation? Do they try to avoid having people who are highly educated? Or is it certain types of occupations as suggested in the thread title?

Spectre of Pithecanthropus
12-03-2003, 05:43 PM
Oops, possibly should have put this in GQ, except I am polling for people's experiences, too.

12-03-2003, 06:00 PM
I'm a software engineer, but they didn't boot me. I sat on an attempted murder trial.

12-03-2003, 06:01 PM
No, definitely not your occupation. The only people automatically excluded from juries are attorneys and mental defectives. :D

Okay, old joke. In my admittedly limited experience, your occupation alone isn't going to exclude you from jury duty in general, but may be a factor among others. For example, college professors aren't regularly struck from juries. But a college liberal arts professor who lists his political affiliation as "Green Party" and shows up in Birkenstocks might be struck from certain juries. Or, if you're an expert or have knowledge in a field relevant to the case, you might be struck, because you're a "wild card" that may controvert or somehow color an expert witness in the trial. This is why attorneys get struck a lot; other attorneys are afraid they may "read between the lines" to the jury in deliberation.

Spectre of Pithecanthropus
12-03-2003, 06:43 PM
In my county even lawyers and judges have to perform jury service, though I expect they always get bounced in voir dire too. We had at least one attorney in our group (who got bounced, of course), and the judge said that he had done jury duty himself about a year ago.

One other factor, I was quite casually dressed; I'm not sure how that influences the decision. But L.A. County jury pools do tend to be very casual, about half the people showing up in blue jeans.

Maybe another factor that I didn't think of until now was that I gave my city of residence as West Los Angeles. If you don't know L.A. that's the "better" side of town. Damn! I forgot Courtroom Rule Number 1, which is: Never give even a single iota more information than necessary. I should have just said "L.A!".

12-03-2003, 08:51 PM
I have heard that lawyers tend to not want jurors to have good analytical skills. Thus, they may dismiss engineers and other technical people.

12-03-2003, 09:13 PM
I've been called many times, and have never been selected, but I've never had the impression that my occupation caused me to be dismissed. Perhaps I'm naive, but I've usually been able to think that answers to other questions were what led to my being left off the jury.

I, too, actually would like to serve some time.

[hijack]I've wondered before, when instructions to the jury pool have included admonitions that, should one be called to serve, and one has experience in a field addressed by an expert witness, one must disregard their own experience and rely solely on testimony, if I could do that. I think I could, if there was only one. But if there were opposing expert witnesses who presented conflicting evidence, I'd think I'd have to incorporate my experience in evaluating the testimony. Or, at the least, it would be truly difficult to not.[/hijack

12-04-2003, 06:55 AM
It probably depends on the case. If one side or the other plans to wheel in some 'expert' witness to do a smoke and mirrors job, then they'll want to eliminate the critical thinkers.

Remember the old saying - you're not being judged by a jury of your peers, you're being judged by 12 people too stupid to get out of jury duty.

12-04-2003, 09:07 AM
I have been a trial attorney (criminal defense as a public defender- take your best shot!) for 16 years. My experience has been that it relaly depends on the type of case, but I do have some rather specific prejudices about certain professions. I tend to like people whose professions involve mathmatics and certainty if I think taht the state has a weak case, and things aren't going to "add up". I defended a murder case earlier this year and ended up with a hung jury- 10 to 2 to convict, and one of my two holdouts was a math teacher. The DA is still rying to decide whether he's going to retry it.

With rare exceptions (see above), I tend not to like teachers, especially elementary or middle school teachers. They hear kids give them stupid excuses and stories all the time, and are skecptical of the accused. I have put an attorney on a jury before, but I typically don't like to. I don't want to put anyone on the jury who might use their own special knowledge or training to decide the case, rather than just deciding it on the evidence, e.g., a firefighter in an arson case.

Other attorneys I know have their own weird little biases about certain professions. The prosecutor in my circuit hates anyone who works with computers- he thinks they are too methodical in their thinking- and and people who own their own businesses- too independent, he prefers a jury full of sheep. Another attorney I used to work with didn't like anyone in a supervisory position.

And of course, you don't want anyone whose occupation would make them likely to be biased against your client- like someone who works retail in a shoplifting case, a bank employee in a forgery case, etc. In Georgia, police officers are automatically excluded from jury service in any criminal case.

Frankly, with all of the mental voodoo that goes into jury selection, we'd probably wind up with the same results if we just put the first 12 in the box every time!

Spectre of Pithecanthropus
12-04-2003, 10:01 AM
The case in question was attempted murder and a couple of related charges easily adding up to a life sentence, and the defendant was already a convicted felon, though we weren't told what kind of felony it was. A number of witnesses were going to testify (actually, are testifying now, presumably) and I had a hunch it was going to be a slam dunk for the People. The defender, presumably, is going to have to emphasize any potential weaknesses in the People's case, and there probably won't be much for him to work with. Accordingly, he's going to have to resort to diversionary tactics, so to speak, and those probably tend to be less successful when used on analytical types. (Nothing bad on you, katie1341, that's just how this non-lawyer imagines that you have to proceed in a case like this. I imagine that I would do the same).

12-04-2003, 10:06 AM
Under Indiana law, veterinarians and ferry boat captains are automatically exempt from jury service. Does that count?

12-04-2003, 01:36 PM
When I was recently excused from the box, I was told essentially what Katie1341 said: if either side feels they have a weak case, they will try to exclude the analytical types (I, too, am an engineer). The reasoning being that they will need to try to influence more on emotion, and the analytical people will rely more on the facts of what is presented.
So it depends on how strongly both sides feel about their case. I would guess that if each side feels they have a good case, there would be no real need to remove the analytical types. In fact they may even prefer to have them in the box.

The only true "get out of jury duty free" card that I know of (and all my lawyer friends confirm this) is if you've ever studied law.

12-04-2003, 01:57 PM
Originally posted by cormac262
The only true "get out of jury duty free" card that I know of (and all my lawyer friends confirm this) is if you've ever studied law.
Cormac262, see Katie1341's post:
I have put an attorney on a jury before, but I typically don't like to.
So even studying law isn't a "get out of jury duty" guarantee.

What about if you're in prison? I asume convicts don't get called for jury duty :D

12-04-2003, 02:09 PM
One of my colleagues, an astrophysicist, is serving on a jury as we speak. I'm acutely aware of this as there is a test in his class tomorrow, and I've been covering his office hours this afternoon. Anybody wanna learn more about torque? :)

Anyway, a guy I know who went to law school said no lawyer ever wants a scientist on his jury.

However, a friend of mine who is actually a practicing lawyer (ADA for our county) says that as a prosecutor, he usually likes to have jury members who are analytical thinkers and who will do a good job evaluating the evidence. He's quite an analytical thinker himself, so I imagine that when he contructs a case, that's the type of person he is trying to convince.

12-04-2003, 02:22 PM
Are members of the press and broadcast media still exempt?

Some years ago in Illinois, my mother got the postcard. IIRC, there was a checkbox on it to say "I work for a newspaper" and send it back in and be taken out of any future consideration.

She didn't even have to go anywhere - just mail the postcard back and that was it. Now she's an educator so I suspect that'd also be used "against" her for selection.

12-04-2003, 03:17 PM
Originally posted by cormac262
if either side feels they have a weak case, they will try to exclude the analytical types (I, too, am an engineer). The reasoning being that they will need to try to influence more on emotion, and the analytical people will rely more on the facts of what is presented. Isn't this normally the case?

This attitude is legendary around my workplace (analytical instrument engineering firm).

Jury duty around here has come to be known as the "morning off," as we now have phone-in jury service, where they post a message to a voice system and you call in each afternoon for the period of your service. You are given a group number, and the call in only certain groups each morning. You are automatically sent as a prospective juror, and if you don't get on a jury that day, your service is completed.

Inevitably, our engineers will show up in the morning, and by afternoon, have been dismissed in voir dire.

I've reported for jury service about a dozen times in the past 20 years. Only once have I been on a trial - it turned out it was a mistrial the first time, since neither side had a very good case (home invasion armed robbery, but the victim was clearly covering something up and had inconsistencies in his testimony; the prosecution relied mostly on the testimony of the victim). They apparently felt they needed (or had been ordered to select) a jury of professionals. We had two engineers, a doctor, a schoolteacher, three accounants, an actuary, and others I don't remember... very uncommon mix of professions as I recall...

And it lasted eleven days... including deliberations.

12-04-2003, 03:23 PM
[Slight hijack]

Lawyers, how would you treat an answer of, "You don't need to know" or "I'm sorry, I'm not sure that I can tell you"?

[/Slight hijack]

12-04-2003, 03:54 PM
An Air Force JAG officer I spoke with told me that for courts martial of enlisted airmen, defense prefer commissioned officers over non-commissioned (NCO) jurors, and of the officers they really prefer pilots. She speculated that officers (and particularly pilots) are much less likely to deal with airmen in supervisory or disciplinary roles, hence may be more "big picture" or lenient.

The opposite of katie1341's schoolteachers perhaps.

12-04-2003, 04:06 PM
The only time I've had jury duty, I was chosen to be on the jury (I'm a physicist). Of course, I do live in Silicon Valley where it's much harder to end up with 12 non-technical people on a jury, so they may not even bother trying.

Yeah, I know, it's not a very interesting contribution to the thread. We can't all be trial lawyers, you know!!

sultana of slash
12-04-2003, 04:16 PM
My husband has a "get out of jury duty free" card.
"Do you know any doctors" "Yes, I'm married to one"
"Do you know anyone in the justice system" "Yes, I'm married to one"
"Do you know any police officers" "Yes, all of them"
"Could you go through this case without discussing it with your wife, who has a one in three chance of having done the autopsy?" "No"

12-04-2003, 04:41 PM
I've never gotten to serve on a jury, but I've always wanted to. However, I'm fairly confident I'd never actually be selected. I work with databases, which means I'm supposed to be one of the methodical, analytical types, but I have a fine arts degree, which means I'm supposed to be one of the touchy-feely holistic-thinker types.

Plus the majority of my answers would be noncommittal and laced with caveats. "Do you support the death penalty?" - "I am skeptical of both its deterrent effect and the fairness of its actual implementation, but my mind is not yet completely made up."

I'd probably be axed by both sides just for being too unpredictable.

Hijack question, as long as we're talking about voir dire: If a defendant is representing himself (or herself), does he actually do the voir dire? How does the judge maintain control? "No, you can't dismiss any more. No, you can't have that other one back."

12-04-2003, 05:54 PM
Originally posted by Cervaise
Hijack question, as long as we're talking about voir dire: If a defendant is representing himself (or herself), does he actually do the voir dire? How does the judge maintain control? "No, you can't dismiss any more. No, you can't have that other one back."

Yes, the pro se defendant does his or her own, and the judge guides them more or less as you say. Generally the judge instructs them on how many preemptive strikes they have, gives them a seating chart to mark them on, and explains that the first ones not struck as the list progresses are the ones who make it. That applies to jurisdictions where the attorneys voir dire their own jurors; in federal court, the judge conducts the voir dire.

The list reminds me: Just becuse you arent a juror doesn't mean you were struck. Sometimes you may not be a juror simply because you were at the end of the list. If you're venireman number 2 and you didn't get on the jury, you were definitely struck. If you were number 39 and didn't make it, they probably had the jury filled before they got to you.

12-05-2003, 12:52 PM
PhD Engineer.....Called for jury duty 4 times, served on two juries.

DejahDa...Engineer......Called for jury duty one time, served on one jury.

And we are definately not located in a high tech profession region.

12-05-2003, 10:34 PM
Ph.D. Called for Jury Duty twice, but the entire jury pool was dismissed both times, so I haven't served.

Pepper Mill, on the other hand, seems to be constanty called for jury duty.

12-06-2003, 04:06 PM
I served on a jury in an assault case in LA County. Something tells me my occupation as a marine biologist at the time did not provide much fodder for potential conflicts of interest.

Vlad Dracul
12-07-2003, 12:35 AM
A professor told me he had been summarily dismissed as soon as he told the lawyer that he was a math professor. He asked why, and the lawyer told him flat-out that mathematicians are too hard to sway with emotional appeals.

Another professor said the lawyer actually looked scared upon hearing that she was head of the criminal justice department at the local university.

My father, an engineer, has been on two juries that I recall.

12-07-2003, 12:54 AM
I've been called 4 times and never sat on a jury. In my current profession, I'm a marketing manager. However, in my previous I was as a litigation consultant at a public acconting firm. To grossly oversimplify what we did, we would crunch the numbers for attorneys to measure financial impacts (mostly to support damage claims). I think that may be why I've been booted every time.

12-07-2003, 12:04 PM
As a person in a technical or scientific career, I think this thread needs a control group. :) How often are people in other careers dismissed from juries?

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@straightdope.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright 2018 STM Reader, LLC.