The right to a jury trial for a serious criminal charge is guaranteed by the Constitution. Juries are also guaranteed in certain civil matters at the federal level and in most states. A jury is charged with finding 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
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' names. From the compilation, names are randomly drawn.
Notification by Mail and Never by Phone
Once the names are drawn for jury selection, each one of the prospective jurors 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 will be provided 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.
What if You Don't Show Up?
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, but do it again and you are probably looking at jail time.
Are There Exemptions From Service?
The jury summons most likely will provide information about exemptions from jury service. These exemptions typically include:
- Under the age of 18
- Not a U.S. citizen
- Have been convicted of a disqualifying felony
- Not a resident of the county any more
- Request to be Excused or Disqualified
- Have a mental or physical disqualifying condition
There may be additional automatic exemptions that apply in your state or county.
What Happens When I Get to Court?
The process varies from state to state and county to county. Some courts have a call-in system, where you call the court once or twice a day and they tell you that you are or are not needed.
Other court's just have you show up when the court house opens and you sit in the jury waiting area until called for a potential jury. The chairs tend to be uncomfortable and you could be there for hours, bring something to read or do. Do not count on the courthouse having WIFI or even cell service available. Court houses tend to be old buildings and are generally underfunded.
Will I Get Paid?
You will not get paid unless you are actually chosen to sit on a jury. If selected, you will be paid. You may or may not also receive travel expenses for mileage and parking. However, the amount of money you receive per day is minimal. It will barely cover gas and lunch money.
Out of all of the people called for jury service on any given day, a group of about 100 will be selected and asked to go to a court room. The rest of the potential jurors left behind will wait for other juries. However, it is possible to sit in the jury room all day and not get called for a jury.
In the court room there will be the judge, an attorney for each side, the court reporter, the court clerk, and a bailiff. The parties with their attorneys are often present.
The judge will give an introduction to the civil or criminal case and introduce all of the people in the courtroom. The judge will then state what the rules are and the procedures that will be followed for jury selection.
Next, the judge will begin the process of juror's requests for dismissal. Out of the 100 prospective jurors, the judge is typically looking for twelve people and 2 or 3 alternates, but states vary on the number of jurors required. The process differs, but the prospective jurors will be given an opportunity to state reasons they should be excused. 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 excuses and if you believe you have a hardship that will make it difficult to serve, then inform the judge. They will evaluate excuses on a case by case basis. However, do know that the judge already knows you do not want to serve and has heard every conceivable excuse to get out of service. So, do not be surprised if your excuse 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.
Jury Selection and "Voir Dire"
"Voir Dire" refers to the second stage of jury procedures, and is the process by which the court and the attorneys narrow down the pool of jurors to the 12 people that will decide the case.
The process for voir dire varies from state to state, and even from judge to judge. Normally, however, the judge and attorneys will interview each juror about their backgrounds and beliefs. Sometimes this happens in front of the rest of the jury pool, sometimes this happens in private.
Each attorney has the chance to object to jurors. There are two types of objections: "peremptory challenges" and "challenges for cause."
Dismissed for Cause
Generally, there is an unlimited number of challenges for cause. When an attorney challenges a juror for cause, there was most likely something in the juror's background that would prejudice them in the case. 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 seek to have excused jurors that they do not believe will be favorable to their side. An attorney is not allowed to use peremptory challenges based on the race or gender of potential jurors.
More Questions About Jury Selection? Get Legal Help Today
At some point, the attorneys for both sides will state that they are satisfied with the jury panel. If there are remaining potential jurors left, they will be excused. Jury selection has been completed and the next phase of the trial will commence. If you have additional questions or have found yourself in trouble because of jury duty, you may want to seek the advice of an experienced criminal attorney.