A look at my recent experience attending jury selection in Dallas.
As I was finishing up my cafeteria-style lunch, the lady across from me said, "I wonder if forcing us to eat here makes them money?" I stopped slurping my empty styrofoam cup and thought about it. Shrugging my shoulders, I said, "probably," but it got me wondering.
Long after our conversation moved on to other topics, such as work and weekend plans, my brain continued to run the numbers. Just how much was the City of Dallas making on prospective jurors?
How Many Jurors Are Needed for a Trial?
A jury panel in the state of Texas consists of 12 jurors and up to 3 alternates. So at most, 15 people can be selected. In this particular instance, they only required 1 alternate. So a total of 13 jurors.
But they called many more people in for selection than that.
The biggest concern is that people just won't show up on selection day, which is illegal, by the way. They also need extras, as both the prosecution and defense can strike (remove) potential jurors. Up to 10 each in this case.
So, they needed at least 33 people to show up that day.
They called in 75 of us.
The Selection Process
After a spiel about how the court system was backed up and thanking all of us for doing our civic duty, the judge began general elimination questioning.
2 ladies were excused for having reached the age exemption (over 70). One gentleman was let go since he wasn't actually a resident of the county. And another gentleman was excused for having a rebooked flight for the next day.
That brought our number down to 71, although we did later lose another guy during a bathroom break. He just disappeared. So, 70.
We then go questioned on ethical matters by both the prosecution and defense attorneys, who focused mostly on the first 3 rows of potential jurors. Those of us in the remaining 3 rows mostly remained silent for the next few hours.
Midway through questioning, the judge dismissed us all for the lunch. Our only options were the cafeteria or vending machines.
There were no nearby restaurants, and with the hour limitation, no one wanted to risk leaving or attempting to order delivery.
So we all crowded the 3 lunch lines and made our purchases.
For my meatloaf with roll, no sides, a styrofoam cup full of Dr. Pepper, and a Snickers bar, I paid roughly $10. And Snickers aside, I chose one of the cheaper lunch options.
When we got back, there was about an hour of further questioning before we were all staged outside while they made the final selections. 2 hours after coming back from lunch, they had made their 13 selections and dismissed the rest of us.
They never made it past juror number 23. And there were 37 of us that never stood a chance at being selected in the first place.
Why Did They Keep All 70 of Us?
It dawned on me that more than half of us never stood a chance at being selected. That this was apparent long before we took lunch. So why didn't the judge send half of us home then? Or better yet, use us to fill a different jury since they had such a "backlog."
Was forcing that many of us to come in and keep us there for the entire process really necessary, or were there other motives?
How Much Did Jury Selection Cost Me?
The $10 I spent on lunch wasn't my only expense. I also had to pay for transportation.
Parking was not free, instead, we were offered a discount. The various lots surrounding the courthouse charge between $5 and $10 a day. Our discount price was $3 for the day.
Getting there wasn't free either. I took the tollways, which cost me $3.30 each way, and that's with the TollTag discount.
As an alternative, they give you a stub which gets you free public transport to the courthouse on the day of selection. But the commute takes 3 times as long, and you have to jump through hoops to get your return trip covered.
Plus, I don't live within walkable distance of a bus or train stop. Considering I would have to drive anyways, I chose to drive all the way to the courthouse.
This brings my total up to $19.60 for the day. And this doesn't include wear and tear on my vehicle or lost revenue (I am self-employed), as I couldn't work that day.
And what did the City of Dallas pay me for my jury selection day?
So they made nearly $14 off me that day.
How Much Money Did They Make Off Jurors
There were probably jurors that took public transit or got a cheaper lunch and so spent less money. There are also likely other jurors who spent as much or more than I did. Plus, a few might have donated the $6 in pay back (to city-run charities) as requested. I did not.
So, if you use a $20 juror average and a juror total of $70, that totals $1,400. Minus the total jury duty pay of $420, the city still netted close to $1000.
From April to December 2021, Dallas tried 53 criminal cases. If the numbers from the day I went for selection are any indication, they could have netted over $50,000 for jury selection alone in that partial year.
Jury selection might just be a hidden cash cow for the city.
How Does the City of Dallas Compare?
It is worth noting that Dallas has one of the worse benefit programs in the state for jury selection.
The state allows each county to provide prospective jurors from $6 up to $50 for selection. Of course, Dallas chose $6.
Individual counties can also provide other benefits such as childcare, free meals, mileage reimbursement, and more.
Even the City of Houston provides prospective jurors with free parking.
Dallas's $2 discount on parking is laughable in comparison.
Doing My Civic Duty
I wanted to do my civic duty. I was excited. I even qualified for an exemption but didn't take it because I wanted to be a part of the civic process.
But after seeing how much money myself and other jurors spent, I kind of regret that decision.
I think the City of Dallas needs to treat its citizens better and stop using jury selection as a money-making opportunity.
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