Anyone who’s spent time as a registered DC resident will inevitably be summoned for jury duty. For many, it will be your first time serving our dear District. Here are some common questions and tips to help make your day (or days) in court as smooth as possible:
How will I know if I’m summoned for jury duty?
You will receive a clearly marked letter in the mail with the words “Official Jury Summons” written on the outside of the envelope. Inside, you will find a blank form where you are to fill in pertinent information like your name, address, race, whether or not you understand the words written inside the envelope, and whether you anticipate yourself dying in the next few weeks. Instead of writing all of this out and mailing it back to the court, simply click here and do it online. You’ll need to keep the letter and bring it with you on the date specified on the bottom. The letter also specifies what “type” of jury you have been summoned for.
What are the “types” of juries?
The most common is “Petit.” People who are not very small can be on a petit jury. The other option is “Grand.” People who are not very big can be on a grand jury. This gives a good explanation of the two.
What should I wear?
If you don’t want to be picked for jury duty…
-don’t bathe for 5-7 days beforehand
-bring a cape and trident
-wear your Law & Order T-shirt
If you do want to be picked or jury duty…
-just dress like a responsible human.
Got it. What will my day be like?
You’ll need to show up to DC Superior Court to check in by 8 a.m. (The closest Metro station is Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter). Show up early. This will give you time to pass through the airport-like metal detectors. Then, you’ll go up to the third floor and wait in line with hundreds of other potential jurors—including Adrian Fenty—to check in.
I’m sorry, Adrian Fenty?
Yes. Since being defeated by Vincent Gray, he shows up for jury duty every day, often wearing a full-length cloak.
Weird. Okay, so what is the check-in process like?
You’ll go into a large office full of court clerks. On the wall, you’ll notice a poster that reads “Welcome to the Carnival.” If the clerk that checks you in is named Renée, you’ll notice that the only thing on her desk, other than a keyboard, is a framed card that reads “Rejoice! Jesus is Lord!” The clerk will then ask you for the official jury summons that was mailed to you, a government-issued ID, and ask about your employment status. If you tell Renée you work at LivingSocial, she will tell you, “Oh, word? Honey, I tear. Y’all. Up. Me and my boo use y’all, like, every day.”
After checking in, you’ll proceed to the Jurors’ Lounge—an airport-like waiting room with some 300 seats arranged that face flat-screen TVs. There are not enough seats in the Jurors’ Lounge to accommodate the 500-some people summoned, therefore the code of conduct in the Jurors’ Lounge is very similar to that of the Metro: Move in so that others may sit on seats near the aisle, don’t talk loudly enough so as to draw attention to yourself, and don’t make eye contact with other people.
Because, as a court clerk explains, last year someone complained about the PG-13 nature of what was being shown on the TVs. Since then, the policy has been to keep the TVs turned off.
What was being shown on the TVs?
Daytime television, including Judge Judy, which was thought to have “unfairly influenced” potential jurors, says the clerk.
So then what are the TVs used for?
You will watch a ten-minute “orientation video,” which explains the importance of the jury process and concludes with this gem: “Remember, if you are not selected for jury service today, it is in no way a reflection of your personality.”
What happens in the Jurors’ Lounge?
Basically, a lot of waiting around. (Hint: Bring a laptop—there’s free Wi-Fi. Also: Bring as many books as you can. Or just watch Adrian Fenty leaf through the New York Times Sports section, respond to a never-ending stream of messages on his BlackBerry, and bury his head in his hands and fall asleep.) Every 30 minutes or so, a clerk will call a panel, which means that a case is going to trial that requires a jury. She will announce 10-20 names of people who are to report for the voir dire process.
What’s the voir dire process like?
Basically, you’ll be asked straightforward questions from lawyers involved in the case to determine whether or not you’d make a good juror. Depending on whether or not you’d like to be selected, follow this.
What should I see if I leave the Jurors’ Lounge?
Be sure to check out the bust in the hallway of H. Carl Moultrie, the former chief judge of the DC Superior Court, for whom the building is named.
He looks familiar. Haven’t I seen him somewhere before?
Yes, when imagining what a lovechild between Richard Pryor and Morgan Freeman’s character in Driving Miss Daisy would look like.
When is lunch?
Lunch is from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. If you are unfamiliar with the area, clerks can provide you with a “Grub Sheet” that highlights the fine dining establishments in the area, such as Subway. When leaving for lunch, you may note a gentleman who stands at the corner of Indiana Avenue and 6th Street and yells at pedestrians who jaywalk, “Don’t be an anarchist! We live in a system, asshole!”
Do we get paid for jury duty?
And how! If you are called to a panel and serve on a jury (see above), you will receive $30 for each day you serve… so long as you don’t have a job that pays you while you’re at jury duty. If you’re not called to a panel, you receive a $4 “transportation fee” that covers your travel for the day.
Will it cover my travel for the day?
No. Unless you live inside the Verizon Center or keep a cot at the National Gallery of Art, your round-trip Metro fare will exceed $4. (Hint: Definitely do not park. There’s a one-hour limit on nearby meters, the rate is crazy expensive, and traffic cops are notorious for issuing tickets along Indiana Avenue.)
Where do I get my money?
In the hallway where you checked in at 8 a.m., there are two Court ATMs. Simply type in your court-issued juror number, take your earnings, and buy yourself half a taxi ride down the block.
What should I do after lunch?
Be sure to approach Adrian Fenty and ask him why, despite spending seven hours in an 80-degree room filled with hundreds of people, he has yet to take off his wool cap. Ask him if he is cold. Remind him that he has a beautiful head and that he should show it off.
Noted. So if my name is not called for a panel, how long do I have to stay?
In the video, potential jurors are told to expect to stay until 5 p.m.—if they’re involved in a panel, it could be longer. If there are no panels being called, the clerk will sometimes let people go as early as 3 p.m.
How often can I expect to be called for jury duty?
Jurors in DC can be summoned as frequently as once every 24 months.
Anything else I should know?
Yes. A recent study found that only 48 percent of people summoned for jury duty actually attend, so chances are you can skip it entirely.