When that summons arrives in the mail, your knee-jerk reaction may be to trash it. But you should at least pause a moment and ask yourself, "What would [fill in your role model here] do?"
I asked myself what my favorite fictional character would do. She's Miss T. Iris Ginge, a librarian-sleuth. She answered the summons reluctantly and wore her reading glasses on a chain around her neck, as well as white, wrist-length gloves. But, then, she was called for jury duty in 1952 when most jurors were "Twelve Angry Men." (These days, white gloves would probably get you excused from service.)
According to US Magazine (February 25, 2008), what Madonna did was show up at the courthouse "clad in a brown Juicy Couture sweat suit over an Ed Hardy shirt.... "
That's fine for the Material Girl, but what about the rest of us?
Visit the Florida Jury Selection Blog: an experienced trial lawyer, Robert W. Kelley, "dishes" on the topic of jury selection.
If you're willing to serve on a jury or at least to show up at the courthouse, your first question may be:
"What should I wear?"
It's a reasonable question. After all, few of us ever enter a courtroom except for jury duty.
I can tell you from personal experience that choosing what to wear to jury duty is a big problem, especially for a woman:
Men have fewer choices for every occasion.
- Should you wear a skirt or slacks?
- A sweater or jacket? Heels or flats or sneakers?
And I can also tell you from personal experience that proper attire is the least of your worries. Read Walter Olson's 1995 review of books by jury experts (Reason Magazine) if you need more evidence of the risks associated with jury duty.
You should read the following blogs before you do anything else:
The Florida Jury Selection blog's page on 'Jury Selection'
The Hung Juror
OK, you understand what you're getting into, now what?
By the time you've found this page, you've already searched the web for jury-fashion advice. My guess is that you probably care as little about Hollywood courtroom attire--such as Madonna's--as I do. You're likely considering responding to a jury summons in a county where it snows in the winter.
A few (very few) U.S. counties offer online advice about what to wear. Here are some county circuit court websites I've found:
Hamilton County, Ohio
Pierce County, Washington
Southern District Circuit of Iowa (very terse)
Multnomah County, Oregon
Maryland State Courts
Jefferson County, Pennsylvania
Summit County, Ohio
22nd Judicial District, Louisiana
None of these really answers the question of what to wear if you are willing to serve on a jury. They are more explicit about what not to wear.
The first thing you have to decide is whether or not you want to serve on a jury.
I'd like to suggest something: In part, what you choose to wear when you respond to the summons depends on whether or not you want to be selected for a jury and in which type of courthouse you have been called.
Since criminal trials tend to involve people from all walks of life and all socioeconomic groups, I suspect jurors are chosen to represent a broad spectrum of the population and, consequently, may wear a wide variety of clothing.
Civil trials may tend to involve business issues, so business casual may be more the standard. (This is just a guess. I am not a lawyer!)
Here's Psychology Today "Judging on Appearance" on how a defendant should dress for court:
- I assume, then, that a juror should try to dress slightly more casually than a criminal defendant.
- A juror has less to fear and no need to impress his fellow jurors.
- We have to assume that if what a defendant wears can convict him, what a juror wears can get her kicked off a jury, too.
In part, this is because the courtroom is governed by the judge, and judges differ in what they expect of jurors.
If you are chosen for a jury in a trial that is expected to last for more than a day, following voir dire (the jury interrogation) the judge may (or may not) instruct you as to how to dress.
I've heard that some judges suggest "business casual" (which, of course, varies from business to business and from one part of the country to another).
A few judges still ask for attire that upholds the dignity of the occasion. I take this to mean "business attire."
- When I was selected for criminal jury duty recently, the trial began immediately after voir dire, so even if the judge had wished she could tell us all to go home and come back when we were better dressed, she couldn't.
- I was wearing slacks and a casual jacket.
- A year or so before that, I sat through voir dire on a civil jury panel for which I was not selected. (I was dressed rather oddly, although I think it was my Italian last name that caused me to be rejected, not my clothing.) That trial also started immediately.
- One of the people selected for that trial was a professional jury consultant. She was wearing black slacks, a black cardigan, and a white blouse.
Who selects jurors and how do they choose among the jury pool?
Here's an overview from Psychology Today: "Unnatural Selection."
Here's an interesting description of the jury-selection process in Martha Stewart's trial: "Welcome to Jury Selection."
It might be worth noting that Martha herself tried to dress down and look like one of "the folks," but it didn't seem to help her. If the judge hadn't reduced the charges before the case went to the jury, Ms. Stewart might still be in prison.
So, the question is: Does a prospective juror's attire during voir dire affect their chances of dismissal either for cause or peremptorily?
Of course it does. I'm not a lawyer, but common sense tells you this. If you don't believe me, take a look at what some lawyers and jury consultants say they look for in jurors:
The Synchronics Group Trial Consultants
An ABA Journal article
Clarence Darrow on Jury Selection (1936)
The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
The American Juror
Legal Treatises (books written by lawyers)
The legal profession has put a great deal of time and money into figuring out how to evaluate potential jurors. One of the most interesting results of all this research is something known as the "Analytic Juror Rater" (which, in my opinion, is called "analytic" because it really isn't). This is also known as "Abbott's AJR". You can read selections of a book describing this so-called "rating tool" on Google Book Search.
The "AJR" purports to help lawyers classify jurors according to national demographics. It claims this provides "an average" of national statistics, rather than "a stereotype" (huh?). The idea is that lawyers should pick jurors who are either like the defendant or like the victim/plaintiff (civil). For example, some demographics indicate certain jurors are tolerant of drug use, while others of us are not. Apparently, the AJR predicted that African-American women on the O.J. Simpson jury would be anti-authoritarian (anti-cop), but prosecutor Marsha Clark refused to believe that and instead thought they would empathize with the female murder victim, even though she was white.
Sidebar: If you think the American jury system is out of whack, imagine living in Russia or China where the concept of juries is a novel idea. Here are two recent articles:
"Moscow Government Wants to Hand Pick Jurors"
"China to Pick Jurors for Courts"
And I'm sure you know that in France, judges serve as prosecutors, investigators, and jurors.
If you don't want to serve on a jury:
I suspect that what you wear and take with you to the courthouse can immunize you from being selected for most juries.
Here's my advice:
What should you bring with you to the courthouse?
- Dress to stand out. Dress too formally or dress too casually. I've heard jury consultants on CNN say that prospective jurors who "dress up" like they're going to church seem a bit too eager to serve on a jury, especially for high-profile trials. No one wants to seat a juror in search of fifteen-minutes of fame, who's going to run out after a trial and hold a press conference on the courthouse steps or write a tell-all book.
- Wear gang signs.
- Wear political slogans on your shirt.
- Wear a uniform (even a UPS "Brown" uniform).
- Dress like Madonna during a concert tour. I would say, "Dress like a bimbo. Show too much cleavage or too much thigh (both sexes)." But I can't help recalling the juror in Scott Peterson's trial they called "Strawberry Shortcake." Apparently in some circuits, dressing extravagantly can be a ticket to jury duty.
- Carry magazines such as Hustler or Guns and Ammo--anything you think will offend at least one lawyer.
- Keep Jujubes in your pocket and periodically pop one in your mouth and chew loudly.
- Pick your nose in public.
- I'm sure you get the idea. Or wear shorts and a halter top, as the county websites listed above warn you not to do.
I'd recommend a good, long book, such as my novel, THE JUROR HANGS. (It's about a holdout juror who hangs a jury.)
Unfortunately, THE JUROR HANGS is an ebook, and most electronic devices are not permitted in the jury deliberation room or courtroom. But you might like to download it to your iPhone from www.Smashwords.com and read on the train commuting to court. Or you could ask the judge if he would mind if you brought your Kindle to court. It is also available for the Kindle for under $2.
So, instead you may need hardcopy. I took Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, as a sort of warning to the court that I was a mystery maven. They selected me for the jury anyway. A fellow panelist had a Stephen King novel (It, I believe). They dismissed him.
Here are a lawyer's recommendations: "Gift Ideas for Jury Fans."
Other people have told me they carried Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment
and Kafka's The Trial
into the jury room and were not selected for juries after that. I recall taking Hesse's Magister Ludi
once to a civil court, but I was never even called into voir dire. I think the proper conclusion to draw is this: take a fat book when responding to a summons. It may keep you off a jury, and if not at least you have something you won't be able to finish reading in a single day.
Other Reasonable Questions
Check your state's Justice Department website for policies concerning media access to courtrooms and trials before you go to court. In my experience, juries are never media darlings. The media don't like it when juries convict a sympathetic defendant, when juries acquit a celebrity, when juries find a defendant guilty of a lesser offense than the maximum (in other words, when they don't throw the book at the defendant) or when juries don't condemn a murderer to death, or--worst of all--if a jury "hangs."
- Should I take cash? Yes.
- Will I have to buy my own lunch? Probably--contact the courthouse before you show up to find out if there's a public cafeteria in it or there are restaurants within walking distance.
- Is parking free? Probably not--contact the courthouse for information well before your summons date.
- May I bring my laptop, PDA, Smartphone, iPhone, cell phone, Gameboy DX? Probably not.
- Will my trial be televised or broadcast? If so, will I appear in the media? Not if you're lucky.
My best advice for prospective jurors: Know what you're getting yourself into, wear comfortable clothes, and don't volunteer to be the foreperson.