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What Jury Duty Teaches Us About Jury Duty

In the Amazon Freevee hit show Jury Duty, phony documentary filmmakers film a phony court case tried by phony attorneys before a phony judge in front of a phony jury consisting of 11 actors and one real juror, man named Ronald Gladden, the only participant not in on the prank. In addition to being the sole authentic person on the show, Mr. Gladden also happens to be incredibly kind and astonishingly tolerant of the multiple mishaps, calamities, and misadventures – all orchestrated by the filmmakers - to which he is subjected. Jury Duty, which also stars James Marsden playing a narcissistic version of James Marsden, is entertainment. It’s unlikely that any serious litigators will study the show’s fake and highly inept attorneys for any litigation tips; nor will the ludicrous trial set any precedent. But the show does, even if as unwittingly as Gladden’s participation, provide some insight into jurors and how they do their duty.

  • Voir dire is an even more uncertain science than we thought it was. Prospective jurors bring an element of uncertainty and unpredictability to voir dire that can defy efforts to suggest generalized approaches let alone specific rules. Yet, despite the somewhat chaotic and even messy nature of voir dire, some truisms can and will assist counsel. While one of those truisms, that most potential jurors would rather be someplace else, is apparent in Jury Duty’s voir dire episodes. The limitations, frustrations, and interactions of the show’s jury assembly room result in some huge twists. While the plans the characters make to evade jury duty provide the narrative tension, that some of these evasion strategies are hatched in the jury assembly room demonstrate how jury duty is how most people experience the justice system, and the jury assembly room is the very first component of that experience. Indeed, several major voir dire conflicts hinge on conversations had and impressions made prior to the jurors even entering the impaneling room. To justify the imposition imposed by jury duty the justice system should try to minimize negative experiences. But attorneys should remember that many of their jurors are in the midst of a negative experience.
  • We could avoid so much chaos by doing things remotely. The pandemic prompted courts to experiment with remote jury proceedings – from voir dire to trial to verdict – and as hastily as courts put such remote proceedings together, the benefits of remote proceedings became apparent. Jury Duty illustrates, albeit satirically, how much of a burden jury service is on a self-proclaimed celebrity; not surprisingly, finding transportation to the courthouse was not one of them. Before the pandemic, time off work and transportation to the courthouse were huge obstacles for jurors. In Alameda County, California, only one in five citizens even responded to jury summonses. Remote jury proceedings in real life changed that. Judges in jurisdictions that have adopted remote proceedings cite increased jury participation, boosted efficiency, and reduced travel issues to the courthouse. A jury of your peers should really consist of your peers.
  • While sequestration is rare, the bond the Jury Duty jurors create during their sequestration is a good reminder of the connections jurors inevitably make during their service. In Jury Duty, a character named Tim makes origami cranes for everyone – except Ronald. Ronald’s reaction to this is fascinating. Attorneys should remember that in nearly half of civil cases, the verdict reached by the jury was not the one favored by a majority at the start of deliberations. Deliberations play a huge role in civil cases because of the variety of viewpoints and the many avenues available for compromise where damages are at issue. Additionally, while the Jury Duty foreperson was selected by the judge and the foreperson tasked individuals, attorneys should structure arguments knowing how arbitrary foreperson selection and the entire deliberation process is in jurisdictions where juries self-select forepersons. Some juries vote first; some review evidence first. The strengths and weaknesses of your case can help you direct juries in how to deliberate.

Again, it’s unlikely Jury Duty will be studied in law school any more than its predecessors Candid Camera or Punk’D might be. But there are some interesting things for attorneys to note. At the very least, watch it because your future jurors have likely watched it.