Looking at Jury Service from the Other Side of the Bench
By Prince George’s County Circuit Judge C. Philip Nichols Jr.
(Many judges have been called to serve on juries in the state of Maryland. The following is an excerpt from Judge C. Philip Nichols Jr.’s commentary that appeared in the Baltimore Sun in August 2013, in which he describes his personal experience serving as a juror in Prince George’s County.)
This is a report from juror No. 26. I was recently summoned to jury service for the first time in my life. While I have presided over 518 jury trials, this was my first time on the other side of the bench.
They start early — 7:30 a.m. There is a lot of hurry up and wait. Those who are veterans understand clearly what that means.
Qualifications: You have to be qualified to be a juror in our state. For example, you have to be a U.S. citizen and resident of the county and state. English language proficiency is required. You may not be convicted of a crime punishable by six months or more of incarceration and not pardoned. You may not have any criminal charges pending against you. If you have a physical disability, a health care provider may provide a certificate attesting to your disability.
Excuses: There aren't many. If you served on jury duty in the last three years, you can be excused but you have to request it. The next reason is a little less clear: jury service would be “an extreme inconvenience or cause undue hardship.” You need to supplement this reason with documentation. Since we made Gov. Glendening show up for jury duty when he was summoned years ago, there is no way out. In 2006, Gov. O'Malley made the same trip to the Baltimore City courthouse.
Generous jurors: The most moving part of the morning was the Generous Juror Program. Many counties in our state have such a program. We allow our jurors to pool their jury stipend ($15) and leave it for the benefit of our foster children. In our county we put two children a day on average into foster care. The comforts we provide our own children sometimes elude foster children. The funds collected go for Scout uniforms, athletic gear, computers and the like. Our jurors in Prince George's County are very generous by any measure. We have collected hundreds of thousands of dollars since we started in 2001.
The trial: I did, in fact, make it into the jury box. I was the 12th juror picked in a manslaughter case. Yet after what seemed like a never-ending discussion, I was excused. Even though I had begun to bond with Juror No. 27, he had to go on without me as he took my place in the box.
I made some new friends and gained a whole new perspective on the jury system. While it was a duty, it was not all that onerous. I recommend it.