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D.C. Grand Jury Duty – This Isn’t the Jury Duty You’re Looking For

January 18, 2017

these-arent-the-droids-youre-looking-forNo, seriously. Listen to the dubious guy who didn’t mention everything your father did with that lightsaber. D.C. Grand Jury duty is not what you expect. It’s not what your friends expect. It’s not what your supervisor expects. And it will change your life.

You’ll probably go through the five stages of grief at some point leading up to and including your Grand Jury duty, but the stages may be a little out of order, as they were for me. And you will experience them for unexpected reasons.

Stage 1: Denial. You won’t believe what the “D.C. Grand Jury Duty” letter says about the length of service and commitment. You’ll search for websites to tell you what Grand Jury duty really means. Those websites and bulletin boards won’t really help. You won’t believe you are going to be a full-time Grand Juror for five weeks. You think it must be that thing where you call in every Friday to see if you are needed on Monday. That must be it. You ask everyone you know, but no one has ever been on a D.C. Grand Jury.

You go to the first day of D.C. Grand Jury duty. It’s in the same courthouse you’ve been to a bunch of times for that petit jury service you get called for every two years. You never end up serving on a petit jury. Why would you have to serve on a Grand Jury? While you’re waiting in your courthouse seat for whatever happens next, you think, “Surely, there is no way that D.C. Grand Jury Duty is five weeks of full-time work.”

Stage 2: Anger. But wait. That stage actually comes later. What’s next is:

Stage 3: Bargaining. Around you in the courthouse, everyone is whispering about how they are going to try to get out of Grand Jury duty. The people talking all seem to think they have iron-clad excuses not to serve. Half the people talking around you are wrong. So, so wrong. You don’t try to get out of Grand Jury duty, cuz seriously, it’s your civic duty, and you aren’t anywhere close to having an excuse. Plus, this is shaping up to be kinda interesting. And totally unexpected. You’re intrigued by what is going to happen next.

You save your bargaining for your supervisor. You know your job is going to go to H.E. Double-Hockey-Sticks if you can’t work at least a few hours every day. That night, you’ll bargain with your boss to earn credit hours and comp time for the work you do at night. Your boss agrees. Sort of.

You are midway through your stages of grief, so let’s step back and contemplate actual Grand Jury duty.

one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

It Begins. There are 23 people on your Grand Jury. You are moved to another building, a Federal one with much more security. The metal fork you brought for your sack lunch is temporarily confiscated. You have to leave all your electronic devices in a locker in the new building — every day of your Grand Jury duty! But how can you go without your phone all day?!? Almost everyone under the age of seventy is having rapid-onset, palpitation-inducing smartphone withdrawal, you included.

It turns out D.C. grand juries are modeled on Federal grand juries, and some very knowledgeable people will tell you about the history of how that happened. They will lay out your responsibilities over the next five weeks.

Your workday is going to be basically 8:30am to 5:00pm. You mentally revisit “Denial” and disbelieve the 5pm-edness of the end time. But you have a new sense of doubt about your own Grand Jury duty logistical perceptions. You were wrong about that five weeks thing. Could you be wrong about the service ending every day around 5pm? Never! Surely, you’ll have time to do your regular job from 3:30pm – 5:30pm, and it won’t be so bad. Surely. Surely. Surely. This can’t be denial. You and your 22 new friends are sworn in for Grand Jury duty.

None of your fellow Grand Jurors has ever met another person who has been on D.C. Grand Jury duty, except that two of the Grand Jurors have actually been Grand Jurors before. The tricksy God of Too-Small Data Sets is playing with your head. In a city of 650,893 people, only 1,000 serve as Grand Jurors each year. And apparently once you’ve been a Grand Juror, you have an out-sized possibility of being a Grand Juror again. What?!? It’s no wonder you’ve never met any other Grand Juror. You end up spending a lot of time helping the people at work and your friends understand the time commitment.

The Typical Day. You better be on time to your new temporary job that pays nothing except metro fare. They close the door if you aren’t on time, and it locks automatically. If you’re late, you’ll get a reputation with your fellow Grand Jurors for being a slacker. You don’t want that. They all seem like nice people, and it’s clear you are all in this together. Besides, you find you don’t want to miss any of the Grand Jury happenings. Over the next five weeks, you’ll hear pieces or the entirety of between sixty and a hundred twenty cases. You and your fellow Grand Jurors are, at first, shocked by this possibility, but here’s how the seemingly-impossible becomes the actual (This is just an example, but it’s pretty typical of how a day a week or two into Grand Jury duty would shape up):

  • 9:00am-9:30am – Hear testimony from a witness on new case # 21
  • 9:30am-10:30am – Hear testimony from two witnesses on case #19 from yesterday
  • 10:30am-10:45am – Morning break
  • 10:45am-11:30am – Group read-aloud of transcripts from new case #22
  • 11:30am-noon – Hear testimony from a witness on new case #23
  • Noon-1pm – Lunch! You retrieve your electronics from the security locker and wonder why you ever thought you couldn’t live without a smartphone. It’s so peaceful to be electronics-free! Besides, having no smartphone all day stops you from having to absorb any more troubling information about the world. Grand Jury duty is enough for the moment. Besides, there are only text messages from your supervisor about a crises that work is hoping you can partially resolve on your lunch break and fully resolve when you are home at 5:45pm. You contemplate the text message. You eat your sack lunch and read some more of your paper book. You’ve been bringing a plastic fork and spoon to Grand Jury duty so as not to cause in incident.
  • 1pm-1:30pm – Back to the Grand Jury room, and nothing is scheduled! You put in your non-electronic earplugs and read for thirty more minutes!
  • 1:30pm-2:30pm – Group read-aloud of transcripts on case #4 from the second day
  • 2:30pm-3:30pm – Two witness from case #10 a week ago, and listen to related audio
  • 3:30pm-3:45pm – Afternoon break
  • 3:45pm-4:15pm –  Assistant U.S. Attorney case #4 presentation and voting
  • 4:15pm-4:45pm – Group read-aloud of transcripts from yesterday’s case #17
  • 4:45pm – Go home!

Turns out that most days go to about 4:45pm! THAT WAS ALSO TRUE! And how will all of this information be kept track of? In your brain and on a pad of legal paper you are provided. That pad and your notes can never leave the Grand Jury room.

Grand Jury duty is a lot to process. You’ve been learning things about the city that, on some level, you’d rather not know. Some of the stories are heartbreaking. You wonder about government provision of services and how it can go right and how it can go wrong. You resolve to stow away the knives in the house. They are just too disturbing to look at given what you’ve been hearing. You re-think the concept of going out at night and realize there is so so so so much that you didn’t know about drugs. You hope for the best for the world.

Stage 2: Anger. You return, out of order, to this stage. Grand Jury duty is the right thing to do, but it’s safe to say you’ve been having a little bit of PTSD every day because of what you’ve been learning about the immediate world around you. It’s great to have 22 other Grand Jurors to share the experience with when the door to the Grand Jury room is closed. You aren’t the only one who is looking at D.C. in a different way.

But actually, this isn’t the real problem. The real problem is that you’re working 15-20 hours a week in addition to Grand Jury duty. Work seems to be one crisis after another. People are hysterical about things, and you realize THOSE PEOPLE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT REAL TROUBLE IS AND THEY WOULD MAYBE HAVE SOME PERSPECTIVE ON REALITY IF THEY, TOO, WERE MADE TO BE A D.C. GRAND JUROR. No one at work can relate to this reality that you are now see so clearly. At night, you keep trying to get the work done from your day job. You keep putting in the hours. You grow jealous of the few Grand Jurors who have jobs in which they don’t actually have to work after Grand Jury duty ends at 4:45pm. Your day job work keeps piling up with new impossible requests. About half of the other Grand Jurors are in the same situation.

Stage 4: Depression. What are you going to do? Grand Jury duty and work together is an impossible situation. You are miserable before Grand Jury duty starts each day and after it, but during your time as a Grand Juror, you know better than to whinge. Your problems are nothing. There are still two more weeks of Grand Jury duty. Too much of your precious free time at home is taken up by cutting zucchini with a plastic knife. You have an extremely unpleasant conversation with your supervisor while you are walking home from Grand Jury duty at 4:45pm.

2016-grand-jury-dutyStage 5: Acceptance. You can’t listen to felony cases all day and do your day job at night. You refuse to work at night anymore. For two weeks, you only have to go to Grand Jury duty. Your loved ones are relived. You are relieved. This is what you should have done from the beginning. Few of the other Grand Jurors can do the same. You are very lucky. Work is going to be a mess when you go back, and you are pretty sure you are in trouble for a lot of things you couldn’t control at work while you were being a Grand Juror. But so what.

You have deep thoughts about your job. And about the city. And about the nature of humanity. You feel better about some things and worse about others. Your last day of Grand Jury duty arrives. One of your 22 Grand Juror friends gives everyone a memento to remember their service. You are going to miss these people. You’ve been through so much together.

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