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What Is Jury Duty Like?

The thought of being gone from work for a week or two for jury duty can evoke feelings of nervousness or even annoyance, but, believe it or not, it's possible to enjoy the experience. Apart from fulfilling a civic duty, you get to be involved in one of the most important parts of the American legal system. If you're wondering what to expect, here is a look at how a typical jury duty experience might go for you.

First Steps

First, you'll sign in and show some identification, then get sent to a large jury assembly room big enough to hold a couple hundred potential jurors. There, you'll be given a summary of what you should expect during your time on jury duty. You'll probably also get some helpful handouts about being a juror and maybe even watch a court-produced video giving more information about serving as a juror.

Expect plenty of waiting. Jurors typically spend long periods of time in the assembly room, which is often well-stocked with things like magazines and puzzles. Bring a good book or something else to keep yourself occupied during all the down time.

At some point, you'll get called into a courtroom with a group of other potential jurors. The judge will explain the basic background of the case, such as whether it's a criminal or civil trial and what the charges are or what the dispute is about. You will also be introduced to the parties involved and their attorneys. You might be asked to fill out a questionnaire with some basic information about yourself, like your age, occupation, education, family, and interests.

Jury Selection

Next, the attorneys and judge will begin their "voir dire ," where they question both the group and individuals about potential biases against the parties or preconceived notions about elements of the case. During this process, it's possible for many of the potential jurors to be dismissed without any explanation from the attorneys. They just decide, based on the juror's answers to their questions, whether that person would be fair to their client. If you happen to be one of the dismissed jurors, you'll report back to the assembly room and await further instructions.

Once You've Been Selected

If you aren't dismissed, you're now part of the empaneled jury and will be sworn in. The judge will give some basic instructions and information, like whether you can take notes. You'll be reminded frequently not to form any opinions about the case until all the evidence is in and warned against discussing the case with anyone, including your fellow jurors. When the trial finally begins, you'll be expected to pay close attention to the evidence and witnesses.

The judge will have given you an idea of how long the trial should last during the voir dire. It may be as little as a few days to several weeks or even months. Often, the attorneys will have motions and arguments to be heard by the judge outside of the jury's presence, so you might be moved into a private jurors' room in the back of the court. Much like the jurors' assembly room from your first day, you may have some very long waits in this room. After the parties give their closing arguments and the trial is over, the judge will instruct the jury on the law relevant to the case and the jury will begin its deliberations in the private room.

Reaching a Verdict

Deliberations may take a few hours or a few days. While you and the other jurors debate the evidence in the case, you may all draw from your life experiences to make sense of things, but you're prohibited from using any outside resources, such as libraries or the Internet. Any questions will get submitted to the court for further clarification. It's considered "juror misconduct" to consider evidence that wasn't produced at trial and, if it happens, the judge will likely declare a mistrial, meaning the case will have to be heard all over again with a new jury. Similarly, a jury that can't come to an agreement about the verdict may be considered "hung," and the case would have to be retried.

When Deliberations Are Over

If all goes well, however, once the jury comes to a decision, you'll notify the bailiff and then return to the courtroom to have the verdict read either by the judge or jury foreperson. At that point, your jury service will be complete and you'll be thanked and dismissed. At this point, you're free to discuss the case and tell everyone what you were doing on jury duty, which is good because friends and family will always have lots of questions about the case. It may surprise them--and you--to learn you actually enjoyed the experience.

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