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What Is Jury Duty Like?

The thought of being gone from work for jury duty can evoke feelings of nervousness or even annoyance. But it is possible to enjoy the experience. Apart from fulfilling a civic duty, you get involved in one of the most essential 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 your identification, such as your driver's license. Then, you'll go to a large jury assembly room big enough to hold a couple hundred potential jurors. There, you'll get a summary of what you should expect during jury duty. You'll probably get some helpful handouts about being a juror and maybe even watch a court-produced video. The court will try to give you more information about serving as a juror.

Next, expect plenty of waiting. Jurors typically spend long periods in the assembly room, often well-stocked with magazines and puzzles. Bring a good book to keep yourself occupied during all the downtime.

You'll get called into a courtroom with other prospective jurors at some point. The judge will explain the essential background of the facts of the case. This may include the type of cases involved, whether a criminal case or civil trial, the charges, or the dispute. The judge will also introduce the parties involved in the particular case and their attorneys.

Jury Selection Process

Next, the attorneys and judge will begin their voir dire. Here, attorneys question both the group and individuals about potential biases against the parties or preconceived notions about elements of the case. This process helps attorneys pick or reject jurors. The attorneys may ask you to complete a questionnaire with basic information about yourself, like your age, occupation, education, family members, and interests.

During the voir dire, the judge will also give you an idea of how long the trial should last. It may be as little as a few days to several weeks or even months.

Based on the juror's answers, the attorneys decide whether that person would be fair to their client. The attorneys may also dismiss a number of potential jurors without any explanation. If you are one of the dismissed jurors, you'll report back to the assembly room and await further instructions.

Once You Are Selected

If you aren't dismissed, you're now part of the empaneled jury and will be sworn in. The judge will give jury instructions to guide you during the deliberation process. The jury instructions will contain information to ensure that you understand the substance of the law and the basic process for jury deliberation. The judge writes the jury instructions, which they hand out to the number of jurors empaneled.

The judge will frequently remind you to keep an open mind and not form opinions about the case until all the evidence is in. The court will warn you against discussing the case with anyone, including your fellow jurors. When the trial finally begins, the court expects you to pay close attention to the evidence and witnesses.

Start of the Hearing

The hearing will begin with the attorneys providing their opening statements. This is where they give an initial presentation at the start of the trial, which happens after the voir dire and before the parties present their evidence.

The purpose of the opening statement is to give an overview of the criminal trial or civil case. An attorney will introduce important facts and questions of law and outline the evidence the parties will present.

After this, the attorneys will have motions and arguments to be heard by the judge. This is often done outside of the jury's presence. They might move you into a jury room in the back of the court. Much like the jurors' assembly room on your first day, you may have some very long waits in this room. After the parties give their closing arguments, the trial is over. The judges will instruct the jury on the law relevant to the case and begin deliberations in the private room.

Reaching a Verdict

After the closing argument or the presentation of evidence, the judge often gives the judge's instructions. This will serve as a guide to the jury about the important legal principles that they should look at when deliberating. It also contains information about the applicable law relevant to the case and an explanation of the evidence presented. The purpose of the judge's instruction is to help the jury reach a verdict during deliberation.

Jury 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. Still, you're prohibited from using outside resources, such as libraries or the internet. The juries have to submit any questions to the court for further clarification.

It's considered "juror misconduct" to consider evidence not produced at trial. If it happens, the judge will likely declare a mistrial, meaning a new jury must hear the case again. Similarly, if a jury can't agree on the verdict, the judge will consider it "hung" and must retry the case.

When Deliberations Are Over

If all goes well, however, once the jury decides, you'll notify the bailiff. Then, you will return to the courtroom to have the verdict read by the judge or jury foreperson. At that point, your jury service is complete, and the court will thank you for your service. 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 many questions about the case. It may surprise them -- and you -- to learn you enjoyed the experience.

Seek Legal Advice From a Civil Rights Attorney

Participating in jury duty plays an important role in the justice system. This experience will give you a better idea of how courtroom proceedings happen and how the courts decide on a case. Whether you experienced issues as a member of the jury pool or you simply have questions about trial by jury, consulting a civil rights attorney can give clarity and support. A civil rights attorney can help you have a better idea of your rights during your jury service.

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