Given that New York City’s criminal court system has the busiest docket of any jurisdiction in America, as long as you’re not one of those people still registered to vote back in Idaho, or heck, even Nassau County despite having lived in New York City for a decade, odds are that your number is going to come up for jury duty at some point. Here are some tips and memories to get you through, or out of your civic duty, which as your summons guffaws at you, “is as important as paying taxes.”
If your summons says “trial,” also known as a “petit” jury, then you may be able to squirm out of service. Here’s how trial jury duty works: You report to the Supreme Court Building at 360 Adams Street and gather in a large waiting room. You watch a fuzzy Night Court-era video titled The Sword and Shield, then a judge, who may or may not have a lazy eye and unamused countenance, will come out and direct traffic. He will listen to your story about needing to get out of jury duty at this point, but unless a family member is in the hospital and you have photos to prove it, it won’t do any good. Over the course of the day groups of potential jurors are called into small rooms for voir dire, wherein the basic facts of a case are presented and then the lawyers from both sides ask you and 15 to 20 other potential jurors questions, designed to weed out jurors who may be less than impartial.
It didn’t work for Liz Lemon, but you can try playing it crazy to get out of jury duty.
We’re not advocating this sort of behavior, but there are a number of ways to shirk your duty, or simply postpone duty. You can “phone in” the first postponement or file it online. After that, you need to present your situation in person. If you truly cannot miss work, be vocal about this, or come prepared on the first day with last year’s taxes or documentation to prove you need to work your freelance gig or you won’t make rent. Coming across as litigious–finding a way to mention your involvement in an ongoing slip-and-fall suit or how you’re suing your landlord may also make you a bad candidate. Going in the opposite direction and mentioning what a waste of taxpayer money the case is, well, that’s not a bad idea either. We also once saw two lawyers reject a woman who actively wanted to be on the jury, eying her suspiciously as she explained that she wanted to go back to school to major in criminal justice. The lawyers may pick a full jury from your group, or if you’re all a bunch of racist, civic duty shirkers, they may call in another group. You are not home free yet, though. You may have to submit to several more voir dire hearings, and you may have to come back several more days and do it all over again. If you get dismissed without an assignment you’re off the hook for eight years. Don’t get too smug too quickly though–there’s still federal jury duty. If you’re on board to go to trial, skip to below to our tips for dining and staying entertained during your extended stay in Downtown Brooklyn.
If your summons says “grand jury,” there are only a few circumstances that will get you excused. These include being extremely pregnant, incapable of speaking or understanding English, or a full-time caregiver. Pleading that you’re a student will only get you a postponement until school break. Kings County offers two-week, four-week, three-month and six-month grand jury sessions; there are also one-year and three-year terms that meet part-time. While getting your number drawn for a one-month term while your fellow watchers of The Sword and Sheild get two weeks or let off completely may seem like a bit of a raw deal, consider your six-month compadres out there and quit your whining. Take your oath and wear that juror number badge with pride. Until you get out of the building. Because you know, advertising that you’re responsible for indicting people (or writing about it using your real name*) is plain stupid.
A bit of a primer on grand juries: Unlike trial juries, so often the fodder for courtroom dramas, grand juries have a total of 23 jurors, with a bare majority vote needed to deliver a “true bill,” an indictment that initiates a criminal case. (It’s not on the grand jury to decide whether or not a suspect is guilty, but to decide whether there is enough evidence to send a case to trial.) Over the course of a grand jury term, the group hears testimony on dozens of cases, rather than on just one, as is the case in a trial jury. Most importantly for re-entering the real daily world, a grand jury’s proceedings are completely secret, to help ensure a fair trial—or protect the reputations of those who are not indicted. So zip it.
Officially for safety’s sake, jurors are only called by their pre-assigned numbers, 1-23. Juror #1 is the jury foreperson; #2-3 are jury secretaries, keeping logs of the case dockets and juror attendance. The remaining jurors sit in cozy leather swivel seats with arms—the secretaries’ seats have no arms, but they do get a table. There is weak wi-fi for your workplace responsibilities and YouTube sensibilities, although electronic devices have to be turned off during the presentation of evidence. When not preoccupied by iDevices, swivel your chair toward your fellow jurors.
Oh the things you may learn from fellow jurors.
Think of jury duty as an opportunity to meet a sampling of all walks of Brooklyn life, quickly. Meet people of Guyanan and Haitian heritage from Canarsie and East Flatbush. Chat with the retired grandpa who walks into jury duty from Kensington every day. Learn about prime eats on Avenue U, another Brooklyn Chinatown beyond Sunset Park. Reminisce about Midwood of yore including the Avenue I Flea Market, the original Brooklyn Flea. And, get tips on prime places to snack in Brooklyn, including in the environs of Metrotech.
Lunch is actually one of the worst parts of jury duty. During your hour of freedom you want to leave the building, yet the area’s most appealing dining options consist of an Au Bon Pain and the immediately adjacent Wok ‘n’ Roll, which does offer a fine pay-by-the-pound Chinese lunch buffet. On the occasional day when you might have more than the requisite hour lunch break (including queuing at security and for the ever-crowded elevators), consider taking a walk across Cadman Plaza and into Brooklyn Heights. On the way there (or perhaps as your final lunch destination), stop by the Cadman Plaza Greenmarket. Open year-round Tuesdays and Saturdays and also on Thursdays from April to December, the downtown Brooklyn outpost of farm-fresh veggies is good for a salad or two.
Head a bit further and poke around Montague Street. Consider the literary history of Brooklyn Heights, if you have time. Skip the lines at Brooklyn’s only Chipotle and head for a cheaper, fuller lunch at Lichee Nut, located at 162 Montague Street. A Brooklyn Heights Chinese food bastion since 1980, the basement restaurant offers 31 lunch combinations, including choice of soup, egg roll or ice tea. Getting your order served up with white, brown or pork-fried rice runs $5.95; with vegetarian lo mein for $6.25. Hanco’s, at 147 Montague, is another cheap and tasty option for $6 Banh Mi sandwiches.
Closer to the courthouse, Jamaican fast-food standby Golden Krust, 139 Lawrence Street, was a fast favorite among many fellow jurors. The Metrotech BID has a great website outlining things to do on your lunch break, including where to go to get discounts by flashing your juror badge.
As you munch on your beef patty reflect, some Friday, this will come to an end. The wardens will give you your discharge letter, to be flashed anytime within the next several years, should you get called to jury duty in New York State. You will conveniently have another engagement when one of your fellow jurors tries to strong-arm you into joining everyone for overpriced drinks and pre-fabricated burgers at the DeKalb Avenue Applebee’s. And most importantly, you survived your civic duty with aplomb.