Hennepin County beat: Jury pool is a surprise mix of people who must answer personal questions

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSONHENNEPIN COUNTY
  • Updated: September 2, 2014 - 11:21 PM

If you vote, you’re eligible for jury duty. Anybody from celebrities to scofflaws can be summoned.

A lawyer will often tell the jury pool a standard joke: There’s a reason jury selection is never shown on those TV legal dramas — because it’s boring. But those who revel in the stories of strangers get to see unintentionally humorous revelations and unvarnished honesty.

What happens first is called voir dire, where the judge and the lawyers ask questions. The goal is to find 12 jurors and two alternates with open minds, free of biases that might prejudice them one way or another.

To start, the judge will often ask jurors to state their name, occupation, hobbies, marital status and spouse’s vocation.

Recently, a prospective juror stood up and said he was a restaurant manager, married and not planning on having kids. “No judgment please,” he told the room. (He wasn’t seated on the jury.)

The woman next to him was a single mom with a boyfriend. She was unable to say what her beau did for a living. (She was seated on the jury.)

Another woman spoke alone to the judge and lawyers about her personal history. Decades before she had been arrested on a prostitution charge. (She was seated.)

Another man proudly announced his big hobby: watching the Minnesota Vikings. (He was seated.)

The biggest surprise came when Michael McGee said he was the medical examiner for the east metro, primarily Ramsey County but also Washington and Dakota counties.

The judge gave the rest of the jurors a break while he and the lawyers questioned McGee, who works closely with police and prosecutors and often testifies in court. After 30 years of working with law enforcement, McGee said he would try to be fair, but, “If a police officer gets up there and says, ‘That’s what I saw,’ I’d have a tendency to believe him.”

The judge sent McGee back to the jury waiting room, suggesting he might be better suited for a civil trial.

rochelle.olson@startribune.com @rochelleolson

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