I completed my jury duty on Tuesday, and I thought I’d give you the scoop about what happens when you report for the week. When I received my summons, the first thing I did was search for “jury duty in Toronto,” so I could get an idea of what to expect. Most of the blog posts I found were several years old. I’m writing this one in June, 2014. See the end of the post for an update from someone who was called for jury duty in September, 2016.
A few months before I received my summons, a form arrived in the mail from the sheriff (which made me snicker, because I imagined someone with a Stetson on their head and two revolvers at their hip). As required by law, I answered the questions that were asked to determine my eligibility for jury duty, stuck the form in the mail, and forgot about it. When my summons arrived from the sheriff, I thought, “Uh oh.” Then I snickered.
In Toronto, they summon a new group of people each week. Being summoned for jury duty doesn’t mean you’ll sit on a jury. It means you’ll be in the pool of people from which they’ll select jurors for trials that will start during that week.
You report for jury duty on a Monday, unless that’s a holiday, which happened in my case. I was summoned to show up on May 20, the day after Victoria Day. I had to be there at 8:30 a.m. There’s only one entrance into the courthouse, and you have to go through security (you pass through a metal detector, and bags, pocket contents, etc. go through an X-ray machine). I couldn’t help but think of Jillian in the opening scene of The Cult. It was deja vu through the eyes of one of my favourite characters. Fortunately, when I left the courthouse for lunch, nothing as dramatic took place outside as what happened in The Cult.
Once inside, I reported to the jury room and lined up again. When I got nearer to the front of the line, my mouth dropped open. Nothing is computerized. When it’s finally your turn, you hand over your summons, and the jury constable looks you up in a binder and marks a dot in one of the five boxes next to your name. Yikes.
Everyone summoned for a given week is divided into four panels: blue, red, green, and purple. You find out which panel you’re in when you check in, and you have to sit in your panel’s designated area, in a large room in which you’ll spend many hours to come. I was in the red panel. I sat at a table with five other people and watched the room fill up.
At about 9:15, we were shown a video about how important jury duty is. It was typical government sappy-happy stuff. After that, the guy in charge for the week talked for around 20 minutes about the rules. Then he asked those who couldn’t stay to raise their hands. About a third of the room did so.
There are three reasons you can be dismissed for the week:
1. You have a chronic medical condition
2. It’s bad timing (vacation scheduled, important appointment), so you want to defer to another week. But…you have to choose, right there and then, which week you’ll show up instead. You can’t just say, “Not this week,” and then leave. So if you’re thinking of scheduling something during the week you’ve been summoned as a way of getting out of jury duty, it won’t work. All you’ll do is delay the inevitable.
3. I’ve forgotten. It might have been that you don’t understand English well, but I could be remembering wrong.
All right, so while those who want to be dismissed are filling out the appropriate forms, the rest of us start waiting. And waiting. And waiting. You can chat, read, use your tablet or laptop (there’s free Wi-Fi), knit, do anything that won’t disturb the people around you. There are games and puzzles in the room, but I didn’t see anyone use them. There’s a snack bar off the jury room that offers tea, coffee, and a small selection of snacks. Bathrooms are also off the jury room.
If you leave the room, you have to leave your summons with the staff, and you can only leave for 10-15 minutes. You’ll generally break for lunch anywhere between noon to 1:00. You have to be back by 2:00-2:15.
Remember I said nothing is digital? You have to check in again when you come back from lunch. When you do so, they move a scrap of paper with your details on it from one pile to another. Why don’t they include a barcode on your summons, and then have the staff scan the barcode to check you in and out? Of course, the staff would have tablets or laptops, rather than a binder of paper. Seriously, we’re in 2014, here.
The first day I was there, the green panel was called out for jury selection. Also, people were asked to volunteer for a coroner’s inquest that would take place in June. They wanted about 15 people for a constable to interview the next day. Those who volunteered were let go for the day. It sounded interesting, but I didn’t want to commit to anything in June. I was hoping to be done by the end of the week.
The rest of us were let go around 3:45. We were getting restless around 3:00, because we were told that court usually ends at 4:30, and we figured they must know by 3:00 whether they’d need to call another panel for jury selection.
This leads into: there must be a better way. That’s what we all kept muttering to ourselves. There must be a better way to select juries, than to have a large group of people show up and twiddle their thumbs for up to a week. I understand that they can’t reliably predict when exactly trials will start, but surely they can have a rough idea by each Monday/Tuesday.
One woman who’d previously been summoned when she lived in Barrie said that they had to go for three consecutive Mondays. They’d choose all the juries they needed for the week, and those who weren’t chosen were then let go until the following Monday. Toronto is a larger courthouse with more going on, but still.
Also, when I was searching for jury duty experiences, I came across a comment by an Australian who was surprised that we all have to physically traipse down to a courthouse and sit on our asses. He said that when he did jury duty, they didn’t have to show up unless they were called the night before and told they were needed. So all they had to do was make sure they were available during that week, just in case.
Okay, so when we were let go on Tuesday (the first day for us, since it was a holiday weekend week), we were told to show up the next day at 9:30 (you only have to show up at 8:30 on the first day). We all did so. Nothing happened. We spent the day sitting on our bums. Lots of grumbling.
On Thursday morning, no movement again. When lunchtime was approaching, I thought, “Nothing’s happening. There’s a good chance we’ll be dismissed for the week.” They say you have to show up for the entire week, but in practice, most of the time the group is dismissed Thursday or early on Friday (sometimes even on Tuesday or Wednesday!), because they’ve determined that no more jury selections will take place that week.
So, I’m feeling optimistic that the hours of reading and chatting are coming to an end, and I’ll have done my duty.
Not so fast.
About 11:30, my panel (red) and the purple panel were called for jury selection. Next Friday, I’ll tell you what happens during that phase. Read Part 2
If you’re here because you’ve been summoned and want to know what it will be like, my advice is to take something to do. Depending on the week, you could be called in and out for jury selection, or you could spend hours amusing yourself. If you like to read, my book Threaded Through Time is set in Toronto.
Also, sit in the back of the room, near the windows. The A/C or heat, depending, is stronger there. On the first morning, I sat in the front of the room, and man, it was hot! After lunch, I moved to the back of the room, and it was much cooler. A woman nearby said that it was her second time there, and she’d remembered from the last time to sit near the windows.
Oh, and hang on to your summons. Once you’ve completed your jury duty, they can’t summon you for three years, but according to the staff, sometimes they do. So keep that piece of paper!
Update: September, 2016
This update comes from YYZMom, who read my jury duty posts and was gracious enough to share her recent experience with me. Here’s some of what she said:
- According to the court officer in charge of the jury group, red, blue, green panels come in on Monday (or Tuesday if it’s a holiday). My summons was for a Wednesday, and there was no holiday this week. So that can happen. We were the “orange” panel, and it was explained that if there are a lot of potential cases scheduled on a given week, they bring in an orange panel on the Wednesday. He called us the “cavalry”. He said that if they find by Wednesday, that the other three panels are getting thin, they have this extra set of people.
- He also said there can be panels called in for specific high profile trials that are very likely to need a lot of potential jurors and are assumed to probably take longer times (months). Those are usually a Thursday or Friday summons. If you are called on a Monday/Tues panel, most of the trials you will see are expected to take only days to weeks, max. Being called on a Wednesday is still only expected to be for the short trials.
- He finished the explanation about the panels by saying “and if on Wednesday we find we still have a lot of potential jurors in our other panels, the orange panel is just dismissed. Which is what I’m doing. Right now.” (Sarah says: Yep, her group was dismissed right away, so it can happen!).
- He told us to save our summons just in case records get lots (yep, still all on paper, with highlighters and paper slips and a wooden bingo-style turning barrel) but as long as we had checked in properly, we were considered to have fulfilled our civic duty and had earned our 3 year exemption. He said that if you have the day off work, the only information the court will give out is that you served jury duty today. So he said that if you want to, you have the rest of the day to yourself. He did say that this only works for the one day.
- The only modern update I can offer is that there a lot of Pokestops around the court building, and if you sit near the window there is at least one that you can collect while you’re sitting inside. I put a lure in it. I collected items every 5 minutes and quite a few pokemon in the hour I was there.
Thanks for the update YYZMom!