The GetUp Crew

The GetUp Crew

The GetUp Crew

If you’ve ever received a jury summons in the mail, you’ve felt that dread. If you’re like me, you may have even put it off as long as possible. But hear me out. The next time you get one, embrace it. Yes it can be an inconvenience, but I found that serving on a Massachusetts jury is an experience everyone should have at least once.

How you get a Massachusetts jury summons

Believe it or not, it’s completely random. Prospective jurors are selected at random from resident lists that are given to the Office of Jury Commissioner (OJC). This is given out every year by each of the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts. Names are then put into a large database, and randomly shuffled by a computer program. If you’re eligible to serve, you have the same chance of being summoned as anyone else on the jury list with you. This is even if you’ve already served before. So if you’ve ever been summoned several times before other people you know, this is why.

My experience getting seated on the jury

Here’s everything that happened from the time I walked into the courthouse, until I walked out. My summons was for the Waltham District Courthouse.

  • Enter the courthouse and go through a metal detector. I took a seat and waited to be sent to the jury waiting area.
  • Handed my completed form over to the court officer, got my juror number (#1), and took a seat as other potential jurors.
  • We had the court officers explain the process of the day, got a visit from the judge who thanked and welcomed us, and watched a video about the process.
  • We waited.
  • I read my book. I’m reading Goodbye Earl: A Revenge Story by Leesa-Cross Smith by the way. SO good!
  • Officers came back and told us that the judge would be seating a jury for one case.
  • We all sat in the courtroom, heard about the case (an OUI), and were introduced to the lawyers and defendant.
  • I was juror #1, so I was the first one called to come up to meet with the judge and lawyers to see if I would be picked to serve. I was, and was seated in seat #1.
  • The process continued with some people being seated, and others returning to the jury pool.
  • Once seven jurors were seated, the trial began.

I won’t get into all the details of the case for privacy reasons, but I will say that it was a very interesting process. I learned a lot, and took it very seriously. We were all given notebooks and I took about 5 or 6 pages of notes. There were many things that surprised me about being on the jury.

NOTE: Keep in mind that this is based on my own personal experience as a juror, and your experience could be different.

  • No one is exempt from jury duty

    A gavel with the Massachusetts logo in the background

    I was really surprised to hear that the judge on our case had recently served on a jury. Here’s why, from Mass.gov…

    “Massachusetts was the first state in the nation to adopt the One Day or One Trial system in all of its jury courts. The One Day or One Trial system means that all qualified citizens are eligible to perform jury service for either 1 day or the duration of 1 trial, if they’re impaneled on a case. No one is exempt from jury duty — police officers, students, doctors, teachers, homemakers, government officials, and even judges are eligible for jury service. This approach ensures that Massachusetts jury pools are as diverse and representative as possible.”

  • Definitely not what you see on TV

    Black background with the text Law & Order Special Victims Unit

    While some of the process may look the same, it’s very different than what you see on TV. First of all, once the jury was seated, there was only one other person in the “audience.” It was all: lawyers, defendant, court officers, the judge, jurors, and this one person. On TV courthouses are filled with people watching. Obviously TV court cases move along pretty quickly because there’s only 60 minutes to wrap it all up. Definitely lots of pauses, and instruction, and behind-the-scenes action you never see on TV. They’re not called TV dramas for a reason. There was none of that. And most of the judges I’ve seen on TV have been no-nonsense, tough, gavel-banging people. I actually liked our judge. He was very thorough, fair, and grateful. And unless I missed it, I don’t remember hearing the gavel banged once.

  • How intimidating it feels

    An empty courtoom

    This won’t be true for everyone, but being in a courthouse felt very intimidating to me. Having to go up to the stand for a “sidebar” with the judge and lawyers, was not the most comfortable feeling. I’m a pretty confident person, but it made me nervous to the point that I’m surprised I didn’t stumble over my own name. That said, it’s still worth doing.

  • I understand how people get off

    A judge in the background blurred out with him banging the gavel in the foreground

    When you’re on a jury, you get A LOT of instruction about what you’re going to hear, and what you need to base your decision on. We were told several times by the judge that the prosecution had to prove the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The burden of proof is on the prosecution. This was an OUI (operating under the influence) trial, and the judge told us that there were three conditions that had to be met for a guilty verdict. If only one or two were met, we had to return a not guilty verdict. Seeing firsthand all the many conditions and rules that must be followed, I can see how people can get off even if they’re not innocent. There have been many high-profile cases that have returned a “not guilty” verdict that I just could not understand when the proof seemed right in front of our eyes. But as a juror given the rules and system we operate under, I can see how this can happen.

  • You can go through the whole trial, and not be able to vote "guilty" or "not guilty"

    Seats for a jury with numbers on each seat

    So what happened to me was, after opening and closing arguments, the witness, and all the evidence was presented, I wasn’t able to be part of the deliberations. I have to say I was a little bummed out about that. So if one, or both, of the lawyers want an alternate for whatever reason, a random drawing is done. I was the random juror who had to serve as the alternate. I was separated from the rest of the jurors while they deliberated, but was on standby in case someone was unable to finish until a verdict was reached.

  • I actually enjoyed it

    Group of blue and white "like" buttons

    The most surprising thing for me was that I actually enjoyed being involved in the process. I found it was really interesting to “look behind the curtain” and see how things are really done. Yes, there is a lot of “hurry up and wait,” but it was nice to feel like I was part of a process that hasn’t always been fair to everyone.

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