Students react to jury duty service

by Beacon Staff • March 1, 2006

John Spencer, a scheduler at the Jury Commissioner Office, said students are eligible to serve on a jury if they live in Massachusetts for more than six months of the year.,Students saddled with jobs and homework may be surprised to learn they have another responsibility: jury duty.

John Spencer, a scheduler at the Jury Commissioner Office, said students are eligible to serve on a jury if they live in Massachusetts for more than six months of the year. Jury Commissioner Pamela Wood said this rule has been in place since 1979, but Spencer said many students are surprised to find that they are required to serve jury duty in two states.

"Sometimes parents will call, irate because their child got summoned for jury duty," Spencer said.

Those who fail to respond to their summonses face a $2,000 fine, Spencer said, forcing many to perform this civic duty or face the financial consequences.

Senior marketing communication major Nicole Bonito served jury duty in the summer at Suffolk Superior Court, located at 3 Pemberton Square in Boston.

"It was kind of scary and nerve-racking, because it was a criminal case, a drug case . [I was thinking], 'Now I have to judge this person and decide if he gets jail time,'" Bonito said.

Bonito said she was the youngest potential jurist, which made the situation more intimidating. However, she said she thought it was a necessary experience.

"I think it's a good thing. It is your civic duty; you're old enough," Bonito said.

Annemarie Bartholomew also said she was intimidated when she was called for jury duty.

The case she was called for was an assault with attempt to murder and firearms possession without a license.

Bartholomew, a junior film major, said she was inconvenienced by the summons.

"Jury duty is not necessarily bad; it's just frustrating that classes don't count as a reasonable excuse to be excluded," Bartholomew said. "I think that's unfortunate."

According to Spencer, there are 10 standard disqualifications for jury duty-which include a felony conviction, primary caregiver status or medical condition-but being a student is not one of them.

Spencer said that the courts are willing to accommodate the needs of students. Many judges like to work things out with students to make it easier for them, he said, offering postponement of service or a change of venue to allow students to serve at courthouses closer to their residences.

When a summons arrives in the mail, instructions are included for requesting a location change or postponement, according to the Massachusetts Trial Juror Service Web site.

Many students said that the process is still an imperfect one. Even those who are not eligible to serve are occasionally called for jury duty.

Ana Mass, a freshman marketing communication major, received a summons in the mail last Saturday, but is an international student from Honduras and is not an American citizen.

"I have to tell them what my visa status is," she said. "It's really funny, because my roommates aren't getting it and I am."

The current standards for jury duty service have been in place since 1979, when the age of eligibility was lowered from 21 to 18, according to Wood.

Students who have served said the experience was time-consuming.

Sophomore audio/radio major Laurie Zagorksi said she waited four hours before she was dismissed. She said students who are called to jury duty should come prepared.

"Bring a very large book or work that you could do for three or four hours," Zagorski said.

Despite her experience, Zagorski said she thinks college students should be called to serve.

"I don't think college students should be completely exempt, because it's a good lesson in the law system," Zagorski said.

Willie Carpenter, a freshman theatre major, was called for jury duty in December, and served on the jury for an assault-and-battery case, in which one woman had stabbed the other.

"The hardest part was that you couldn't talk to anybody about it," Carpenter said. "Deliberation was scary because I was the youngest person there."

He also missed the first week back from winter break because of the trial.

However, Carpenter said his jury duty experience was not as bad as it first seemed.

"When we said that we found the defendant not guilty, she looked at me and smiled," he said, explaining that the jury had agreed that the woman had been using self defense.

Spencer said serving jury duty can be made easier if students are willing to talk with a judge.

"The main thing with college students is work with us and we'll work with them," Spencer said.

Dan Muse contributed to this report.