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What to Expect When You Are Summoned for Jury Duty in Wake County, North Carolina
Just because you receive a summons in the mail for Jury Duty, don't get too excited about serving on a jury. Chances are, based on my experience and my not particularly random sampling of fellow Wake County, NC citizens, chances are you are just in for a long day of waiting.
First, let's review who is eligible for Jury Duty in North Carolina. You must be 18 years old or older, a US Citizen, a resident of the county where you are summoned to serve, physically and mentally competent, able to understand English, and not a convicted felon unless your rights have been restored.
The process begins when you receive a "Summons to Appear for Jury Duty" in the mail. My summons contained all of the logistics, including parking information. "Important Jury Information" is attached, including payment information. In North Carolina jurors receive a whopping $12 for their first day of service, $20 each for days two through four, and $40 per day for five or more days. And if you like, you can donate your payment back to the State of North Carolina - just notify the Jury Clerk.
A Jury Line telephone number is provided. You should call this number after 5:30 p.m. the day before you are ORDERED TO APPEAR FOR JURY DUTY (and yes, this part is in all caps in the instructions provided) to make sure you are needed. This is also how to find out if court is closed due to inclement weather.
Arriving in Downtown Raleigh
I live in Wake Forest--about 16 miles from the courthouse. Jury Parking is available in the parking garage at the corner of Martin and Salisbury. Note the instructions in the nice little box at the bottom of your summons - "Free JURY Parking located here only...First come. First serve." All caps for JURY, nice underline for "only" but not much emphasis on "First come. First serve."
I left my house at 8 a.m. sharp planning to appear as ordered at 9 a.m. A friend of mine recently had reason to appear in the Wake County Courthouse and ended up needing an appeal when she missed her court appearance because she couldn't find a parking place. I thought I was giving myself plenty of time.
I turned left on Martin 2 blocks before the parking garage. I made it through the second intersection to land in a line stretching the length of the last block, all waiting for the parking garage. After 10 minutes of circling I found my way to the top level and plenty of parking places, then hustled to the courthouse.
Citizens of larger cities are probably used to the metal detectors in places like county court houses. I still get kind of freaked out by them, even at the airport. I stood in line and did a mental inventory of my bag's contents. The "Important Jury Information" sheet was pretty adamant about what not to bring, with bold typeface: "Absolutely NO weapons (scissors, knives, Knitting Needles etc.), cameras, or recording equipment in the courthouse." I didn't really think about it until as I was writing this, but I wonder if my camera phone counted? The sign on the metal detectors warned that confiscated items would not be returned. Yikes. Glad they didn't look too closely at my phone!
Wake County Courthouse has a measly four elevators. I walked around the corner and felt immediately pessimistic when I saw the huge crowd. We watched the floor indicators climb up and up. I can't remember now if it is 11 or 12 floors. Then we watched it climb back down and down and down. The trek seemed painfully slow. By the time the elevators inched their way back to us, the crowd had grown very large. Even if all four elevators were empty, I doubted we would all fit. When the doors finally opened for one elevator, it was full. I think one more passenger squeezed aboard. I waited, and another elevator opened with the same results, so I gave up and headed for the stairs.
The Jury Lounge is on the 6th floor. I was on the Parking Level. That's seven flights to climb. After taking a couple of breaks on the way up and still arriving to check in with severely labored breath, I began to wonder if I was "physically competent" for Jury Duty.
Remember I started my journey at 8 on the dot? 16 miles, one busy parking garage, my choice of 2 lines through the metal detectors, 4 busy elevators, and 7 flights of stairs later, I arrived in the Jury Lounge at precisely 9:00 a.m.
Ernest Gets Jury Duty
My Jury "Service"
After we checked in, which means showing your Summons, drivers license and Wake County Parking Deck ticket to the Jury Clerk, approximately 300 jurors settled into some comfortable and some not-so-comfortable chairs. The Jury Clerk thanked us for our service and reviewed the information on our Summons and the Important Jury Information sheet. Then she started an educational video on three very small television sets for all of us to watch.
The video covered the basics about what jury duty is, and who all of the court room players are. I realized this material was surely covered in grade school at some point, but I thank television for keeping me up to speed. I think I can honestly say I did not learn anything new from the video.
The video was pretty short, and between 9:30 and 9:45, the clerk asked us to bring our Bibles to the center of the lounge. The Bibles were scattered all about the lounge but there were not nearly enough for us all. We huddled in groups of 4 or 5 to share a Bible and swear to do our duty. It was hard not to laugh. The clerk told us "fingertips" were fine if we could not fit our whole hand on the Bible.
Next she explained that Monday's were a little different because the judge and attorneys started at 10 a.m. by reviewing the calendar, and that could take fifteen or 20 minutes. She advised us we would have a break until 10:15. Normally, I would take advantage of any break 15 minutes or longer to go outside for a cigarette. However, I was not willing to huff and puff back up the seven flights of stairs, and I was concerned about the elevators' cooperation on the return trip.
I wandered down the hall to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee, and wandered back to my uncomfortable chair. The room by the way was really warm, and it was taking a long time for my temperature to regulate after the stairway exertion. The part on the "Important Jury Information" sheet that recommends bringing a light jacket or sweater is really not relevant in North Carolina in August.
The Waiting Begins
Other potential jurors arrived for duty much better prepared than I did. I brought my journal, hoping to draft an article or two and at least notes and ideas, but right away I wished I had my laptop like a few people I noticed, or at least a novel like most.
At 10:15 a.m. I didn't really expect anything to happen, since I noticed she said it would take 15 or 20 minutes for the judges to review the calendar. But the clocked ticked all of the way to 11:15 and still nothing. Everyone was getting restless which led to the funniest moment of the day.
One young woman had walked away from her comfortable chair, and an older woman had settled into it. When the young woman came back, she said to the older woman, "I was sitting there."
The older woman responded, "I was sitting here at 8:30 this morning."
The younger woman snapped her hands to her hips and said, "You just watch when you get up," and huffed away. About a dozen of us in the immediate area burst into laughter as the young woman went to the Jury Clerk to complain.
"Watch, she'll be in my group," said the woman next to me.
Now the young woman had to be at least 18 (remember the Qualifications for Jury Service), but her obvious immaturity was the first lightening of the mood in my section of the lounge. Unfortunately it was also the last interesting thing that happened all day long.
Finally, about 11:20 am, they called a group of 30 people to go to the 2nd floor court room. Then at 11:35, they called another group of 30 to the 10th floor court room. I was starting to think about my odds. Out of 300 summons, I was Juror number 187. I wondered if they called the groups in order of your jury number, but I didn't bother to ask. I wondered if my odds of going home before 5 p.m. were better if I was called into the group of 30, where they I had a 50% chance of not being selected and being sent home, or if the rest of us would be released quickly without the screening process.
At 12:30 the clerk excused us for a two hour lunch break, saying the judge would need our service at 2:30. We were welcome to leave the parking garage and to bring another ticket after lunch for the clerk to voucher. I wasn't about to take a chance on re-entry, so I walked around the block, found a Chick Filet, smoked a few cigarettes, and still came back to the jury lounge with plenty of time to waste...I mean wait. I did manage to squeeze into an elevator this time.
At 3:30 p.m. I left the lounge to get a bottle of water from a vending machine. I passed a group of people with juror tags, presumably part of the first group selected in the morning. They were in recess. At 3:45, mercifully, the clerk again thanked us for our service and told us that the "judge had gone home." Our service was complete for the next 2 years.
A Typical Experience?
So to recap, out of 300 jurors summoned, on August 4, 2008, 60 were screened and two juries were selected. I heard a few fellow jury candidates explain that this was the same experience they had the last time they were summoned, and I've had numerous friends tell me the same. One was actually screened but then not selected for the jury. The educational video reminds us not to take it personally if this happens.
My dad has served on several juries and actually rather enjoyed it, but he lives in a much smaller county. He starts jury duty again next week, and I'm anxious to compare notes. This was the first time I'd ever been called, and I'm just a little disappointed I didn't get selected to be on a jury. I think it could be interesting.
On the other hand my company doesn't offer paid leave for Jury Duty. I wasn't looking forward to either burning up my personal time or extended time off without pay. According to the educational video, you can't be fired for taking time off for Jury Duty, but I'm afraid the Jury Payment wouldn't offset the loss of earnings for me. Not counting lost wages, I went in the hole with gas and lunch for my one day of service.
Continuing with my very scientific survey approach, please share your jury duty experience in the comments section. How many times have you been called? Were you selected for a jury? I'll check back in with my dad's next experience, too.
Copyright Dineane Whitaker 2008 - Please do not copy and paste this article, but feel free to post a link using this url: http://hubpages.com/_ndwcopyright/hub/Jury-Duty-in-Wake-County--North-Carolina