Under the Sixth Amendment, you're guaranteed the right to a jury trial for a serious criminal charge. Juries are also guaranteed in certain civil cases at the federal level and in most state courts. A jury must determine the facts of the case after carefully reviewing the evidence and deliberating. But how are jurors selected, and what rights, if any, do jurors have in the process?
Random Jury Selection Process
States and counties maintain lists of citizens for possible jury selection. These lists are a compilation of information from the Department of Motor Vehicles, voter registrations, phone books, and other sources that would provide a list of potential jurors. From the compilation, names are randomly drawn.
You may receive a juror qualification questionnaire to complete via the mailed form or online at eJuror. The questionnaire is to determine your qualifications to serve as a juror. You may be randomly selected and sent a summons to serve if qualified.
Notification by Mail, Never by Phone
After drawing names for jury selection, each prospective juror receives a court-ordered jury summons with the date and time of service in the mail. A prospective juror will never receive notice of jury service by phone. All of the necessary instructions are on the summons. You can most likely reschedule your jury service for a different date. If this is an option, instructions will be on the summons.
Do not fall victim to juror scams that pressure you to reveal confidential information via phone or email. The district courts and federal courts will not request sensitive information over the phone, including the following:
- Driver's license
- Social Security number
- Credit card number
Government imposters may sound convincing by providing the name of a trial judge or details about a particular case or criminal trial. Be aware the courts will never demand a gift card to pay a fine or ask sensitive jurors questions via electronic communication. You can contact your district's local jury office or the clerk of court if you have questions about jury duty.
What If You Don't Show Up for Jury Duty?
If you fail to show up for jury service, the judge can issue a bench warrant. This is an arrest warrant that authorizes the police to arrest you. As a first offense, the punishment is typically a fine or community service. But if you do it again, you are probably looking at jail time. You could face a charge for contempt of court and, if proven, face a penalty such as a misdemeanor conviction.
Are There Exemptions From Service?
The jury summons most likely will provide information about exemptions from jury service. These exemptions typically include:
- Under age 18
- Not a U.S. citizen
- Convicted of a disqualifying felony
- Not a resident of the county
- Have a disqualifying mental or physical condition
- Active duty member in the military
There may be additional automatic exemptions that apply in your state or county.
What Happens When I Get to Court?
The civil or criminal law process varies from state to state. Some courts have a call-in system, where you call the court once or twice a day, and they tell you whether you're needed. Other jurisdictions have you show up when the courthouse opens and sit in the jury waiting area until called for a potential jury. You could be there for hours. Bring something to read or do. Some courthouses do not have Wi-Fi or even reliable cell service available.
Will I Get Paid?
A frequently asked question (FAQ) is whether you'll receive payment for jury service. You will only get paid if you're chosen to sit on a jury. However, the amount of money you receive per day is minimal, covering gas and lunch money. You may or may not also receive travel expenses for mileage and parking.
The Fair Labor Standards Act does not require employers to pay employees for jury duty. Although federal law does not require it, Washington, D.C., and the following states do require employers to pay employees for serving on a jury:
- New York
Out of everyone called for jury service on any given day, a group of about 100 will be selected and asked to go to a courtroom. This pool of potential jurors is also known as venire. The remaining potential jurors will wait for other juries. However, it is possible to sit in the jury room all day and not get called for a jury.
The judge will present the civil or criminal case and introduce all the people in the courtroom:
- The judge
- An attorney for each side
- The court reporter
- The court clerk
- A bailiff
The litigants (parties engaged in the lawsuit) and their attorneys are often present. The judge will then state the rules and procedures for jury selection. Next, the judge will process the juror's requests for dismissal. Out of the 100 prospective jurors, the judge typically looks for 12 people and two or three alternate jurors.
States vary on the number of jurors required, depending on the type of case tried. The prospective jurors have an opportunity to state reasons for their exclusion. The judge does not have to accept any excuse but will generally try to be accommodating. Valid excuses tend to be:
- Economic hardship
- Family issues
- Previous jury service in the last year
- Physical or mental disability
There may be other valid excuses, and if you believe you have a hardship that will make it challenging to serve, inform the judge. Justifications are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. However, understand the judge already knows you likely do not want to serve and has heard every conceivable excuse to get out of service. So, do not be surprised if your reason is not accepted.
Once the court has gone through all of the valid excuses for service, the voir dire process will commence with the remaining potential jurors.
From Voir Dire to the Jury Box
"Voir Dire" refers to the second stage of jury selection procedures. This is the process by which the court and the attorneys narrow the pool of jurors to the 12 people who will decide the case.
The process for voir dire varies from state to state. The judge and attorneys will interview each juror about their background and beliefs to determine suitability. Sometimes, this happens in front of the rest of the jury pool and sometimes in private.
Each attorney has the chance to object to jurors. There are two types of objections: "peremptory challenges" and "challenges for cause." If successful, these objections result in prospective jurors getting excused.
Dismissed for Cause
Generally, there is an unlimited number of challenges for cause. When an attorney challenges a juror for cause, there is most likely something in the juror's background that would prejudice them in the case and prevent them from being impartial. For instance, they know one of the parties in the case.
Dismissed for Peremptory Challenge
There are a limited number of peremptory challenges for each side. Attorneys do not need to give reasons for peremptory challenges. However, attorneys will use this to have jurors excused if they do not believe they will favor their side. For example, the prosecution may use a peremptory challenge to exclude a prospective juror who is morally against the death penalty in a capital murder case. An attorney is not allowed to use peremptory challenges based on the race, ethnicity, or gender of potential jurors.
The Batson Challenge
Peremptory challenges do not require a stated cause or reason, so they're susceptible to misuse. In 1986, the United States Supreme Court created a safety net called the Batson Challenge. This allows an attorney from the opposing side to challenge another party's peremptory challenge on the grounds that it was used for a discriminatory purpose. The other party has to provide a neutral reason for objecting to the juror.
Get Legal Help if You Have Questions About Jury Selection
At some point, the attorneys for both sides will state their satisfaction with the jury panel. If there are remaining potential jurors, they're excused. After jury selection is complete, the trial will commence. If you have questions or have found yourself in trouble because of jury duty, you should seek the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney.