Serving Jury Duty in Central Florida
A tale of two days, I will tell you about what to expect when you receive a jury summons in the great State of Florida. Sit back, grab your favorite beverage, turn the a/c up, and let’s begin!
Let’s start with the fact that I have only lived here 11 months, AND I have not registered to vote yet, which leads me to believe that they get the information from the Department of Motor Vehicles. At first, I was annoyed I got one. Honestly, I am just getting down how to get to and from the things I need weekly, but now I have to find the courthouse in Kissimmee? Oh bliss.
But, after some time had passed, I got excited. Everything new in FL is an experience, and I love being able to share them with you, so hey, how bad could it be? Maybe I would learn something, meet new people, and who is to say I would even get picked. So, with great attitude in check, I pressed forward this past Thursday and arrived on time and ready to serve.
The summons will tell you that you need to call after 5 p.m. the evening before the day you are to appear. If you number is read off, you must show, and if not, you don’t have too. I am unsure of what happens after your number is NOT called, I assume they put you back in the pool of people to be summoned again. My number was on the list read, and promptly filled out the card on my summons so that I was prepared to hand it in upon arrival the next day. The note card is some basic info about yourself, simple and easy to fill out.
Once you get to the Courthouse, which I served at the Osceola County Courthouse in downtown Kissimmee, FL, you have to go through security. On the message you hear the night before, they tell you what you cannot bring into the courthouse. Like going through any security, no glass, no firearms, no lighters. Etc… I had to take off my shoes, place my cell phone out of my purse and in the basket alone, then my purse alone. It went off every time I went through it , so they used the hand scanner to check me- I was always fine. The gal in front of me had a glass perfume jar in her purse and they made her throw it away to take it back to her car- she chucked it.
If you are wondering about something you would like to bring in, call and ask first or don’t bother bringing it at all. I can tell you that as potential jury member, I was told I could bring in my laptop, Ipad, IPhone, IPod, or any electronic device. Now, you can use these only in the jury waiting room, but they are NOT allowed in the court room. We were instructed that if a cell phone goes off, for any reason, the judge will take it from you. We made sure SEVERAL times that all of our cell phones were indeed turned off.
Once I was through security, I headed left to the jury selection room. I checked in, handed my summons in, and they give you a badge to wear with your jury member number. The time on the summons said 8 a.m. so I was promptly sitting in the large room at around 7:50. They basically just pointed and told me to wait in this huge room. I referred to it as the “holding cell.” Eventually it filled with everyone else, and what made it so uncomfortable was the sheer silence. They had tvs playing over head, but no volume. I saw computers in the corner, but if you are new to this room, how the heck would I know what they are for? So I cracked open my “Hunger Games” book, sat, and waited.
It would be another hour and a half later that anyone would even clue us in on what was going to happen. You have to understand, I have served before, in WI. We were ushered right to a court room, questioned, picked, and then stayed or went home. This “holding cell” was a whole new ball game to me.
Around 9:30 we were informed that as the day progressed, we would be called, or not, and then taken to a court room where they would decide if we were jury material or not. She explained the computers were for us to use, along with the vending machines, bathrooms, games in the back of the room, and even a fridge to put our own lunches in. They even told us that you can have food delivered to the court house… of course I pictured getting a pizza delivery while in the actual court room and how amusing that would be. “Excuse m judge, I just need to tip my pizza guy.”
The clock was coming up to 10:45 now, and the peanut M&Ms weren’t holding me over. As I was contemplating something else to settle my stomach, they said they needed a jury. Twenty-five numbers were called, and as I heard my number, I was more excited to stand and do ANYTHING else than sit in the quiet room any longer.
The line of our group was escorted upstairs then held until the court was ready for us. We filed in, with assigned seating, and began getting questioned by the state first. She came to me and said “Mrs. Petermann, it says here you are a blogger… might I ask what you blog about?” So I told her, which got me oohs and aahs from those around me. She said “I never met a blogger, that’s really cool.” (Of course I was thinking ‘NEVER?’”
Noon came and they dismissed us to lunch. Since I hadn’t brought one, I headed down the street in search of anything- I was starving. Several of us walked the same way, starting talking, and I had lunch with three other very nice ladies. It was a bit unnerving though, because we ate outside at this Café, helicopters were over head, circling several times. Apparently one of the buildings near the area had to be evacuated because of a bomb threat… lovely. I just smiled at it all, I swear to you sometimes it feels like this stuff only happens to me.
After 1:30 the Defense got to question us, and by 3:00 they had made their decision. I was the 4th name called, and my new friend was called right after me. What were the odds? Apparently 1 in 3. I was excited, I was actually going to hear a case and get to be an important part of it. The 7 of us were sworn in, and it was a done deal. I was an official jury member in the state of FL- who knew this would happen in my first year? Crazy!
As any case you have been a part of or seen on TV, both councils give their opening statements. As we got into the witnesses, I kid you not, one of our jury members was SNORING!!! Yes, he fell ASLEEP! Now, the Baliff got my attention, and I nudged my neighbor, who nudged the snorer. I am sure he was tired, but good grief, I am SURE you can get in tons of trouble for not paying attention.
We ended day 1 around 5:00 p.m., just in time for a rush hour, and were instructed to come back for day 2 at 1:00 p.m. We all assumed it would be starting back up right away in the morning, so it took us all by surprise. But, all awake this time, we were there at 1:00 waiting for the baliff to take us back to the jury room once again. Each time we were escorted into the Court room, I felt like royalty- all the “rise for the jury” was a bit enjoyable for me. The first time we all kept standing when we got in, and the judge said “No, the standing is for you, please sit.” The statement made me think of the end of the Lord of the Rings movie where the King says to the Hobbits “You bow for no one.”
The Defense rested, closing statements came and went, and it was time for us to sink our teeth into the case. We could FINALLY talk about it.. I never realized how hard that is until now. The jury room overlooked Lake Tahoe, it was an incredible view. It’s a funny thing to be in this quiet room, with six other strangers, have nothing in common but the ONE thing you have in common you are not allowed to talk about until the very end. Just odd. We went back and forth and came to a decision we all felt very comfortable with. I was almost foreman, but I felt another gal would be better. She had to sign and bring the verdict to the court, but she did not have to read it.
As the Clerk read the verdict, it was like being a part of a movie again. The quiet, the tension, the eye glances of the attorneys towards us- it was surreal. Then came the most awkward part of the entire experience… the hallway. They let us out from behind the court room, and the attorneys, witnesses, and defendant out the other side.. and we all met to wait for the elevators. One attorney loves us, one hates us, and we all stood there waiting. Eventually one would grab an elevator, then the other, then us.
Seven strangers, and actually on was excused before deliberation because they only needed six. So indeed, six strangers had to decide someone’s fate, and we left shaking each other’s hands, and even a few hugs. I was blessed to have met and worked next to all of them, even Sleepy.
I am able to discuss, but I am choosing to leave that part out. Why? Well, for one, it’s my choice to tell. Two, no matter why and how I chose my decision, it could lead to unnecessary debate that I am not comfortable with. Three, we all have our reasons for things in life, and the way our jury came to the decision I feel I will leave private, for my sake, and for fellow members. I will say this, I felt wonderful about my decision and that we deliberated fairly, accurately, and with the utmost common sense.
The point of today’s blog was to let you in on how it all works. I encourage all of you that if you are chosen, take it with the utmost respect and integrity because you are ultimately choosing the course that someone’s life is about to take. It could be freedom, it could be incarceration, it could be anything- but I took it with the most seriousness that I could because I thought to myself more than once how scary it would be that 6 strangers would be deciding my fate.
I am thankful for the experience and honestly, I wouldn’t mind being chosen again.