What to Expect During Jury Duty

We all enjoyed Amazon’s Jury Duty, which took a look at how a regular citizen might experience serving on a jury in a civil trial. With many comedic twists and turns, Jury Duty might have some people waiting beside their mailbox for a court summons to be dropped off by the mail carrier. But if you’ve actually been called to serve jury duty, this hit reality series may or may not be an accurate reflection of what to expect when called for jury duty.

Jury duty is different in every case, and much of a jury’s experience is obligatorily private. However, there is a general pattern to jury selection and service that can give you a better idea of what to look forward to if you’re called for jury service.

How are jurors selected?

The jury selection usually starts by randomly selecting names from the DMV’s database of licensed citizens or the database of registered voters. Defendants are entitled to be tried by a jury of their peers, therefore the jury must be selected from the community the defendant is tried in. This means that the pool for jury selection is limited to the area of the court’s jurisdiction. i.e., a jury for a Hamilton County Criminal Court case will be selected from a pool of residents of Hamilton County.

The court has to call more people for jury duty than are required to serve in a single trial. At the time of a specific trial, many jurors will be unable to serve due to medical operations or illness, childcare obligations, and other responsibilities. Furthermore, the defense and the prosecution or plaintiff each have a right to strike jurors. This process happens in the form of peremptory challenges (wherein the parties don’t have to provide a reason for the dismissal) and for cause challenges. Potential jurors are often asked to fill out a questionnaire which provides details about their demographics, backgrounds, and beliefs, which the parties will use – in
concert with verbal questioning – to select the jury. The jury questioning process is formally called voir dire. Be honest during jury selection, because you may be charged with contempt of court if you intentionally lie in an attempt to get out of jury duty. In fact, jurors are sworn in by the judge prior to voir dire questioning. The end goal of voir dire is to finalize a jury for the trial, usually consisting of twelve jurors.

Jury selection can be the most important factor in a trial, because jurors’ pre-existing beliefs and biases can so greatly inform their determination of a defendant’s guilt or liability. Defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges will be very attentive to jury selection for this very reason. Sometimes, it will take less than an hour to select a jury, however jury selection may drag on for much longer. If you are selected to serve on the jury, your service will continue until a verdict is met on the case. If you are not selected, you will be dismissed – however, you may be given instructions to return at a later date to undergo the selection process for a future trial.

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What do I do about work?

Once you’ve been called for jury duty, you should tell your employer as soon as possible. After you show the summons to your supervisor, your employer is required to excuse your absence for each day that you serve as a juror. Usually, this includes jurors who work nights or shifts outside the court’s operating hours. Employers are prohibited from discharging, threatening to discharge, or coercing permanent employees because of the employee’s summon to jury duty. If your employer does engage in such tactics, be sure to tell the judge, clerk, or other court employee; they will be able to inform you of your legal rights and help you find a remedy.

Jurors are typically paid by the court for the service. In addition, most employers are required to provide their employees with their usual compensation for each work day the employee serves as a juror. However, employers are allowed to subtract from an employee’s usual compensation the amount that the court paid the juror for their service. Therefore, if an employee makes $7.25 per hour, and the court paid them $50/day for their service, their employer would only be required to compensate the employee $8 for a typical 8-hour workday ($7.25/hr x 8 hrs = $58; $58 – $50 = $8).

Will I be able to talk to my friends and family while serving on a jury?

Juries are sometimes sequestered in the course of a trial, which means the jury is isolated to prevent accidental or deliberate influencing of the jury’s opinion by outside information. Jury sequestration is rare, though. Most cases are not high-profile enough for sequestration to be necessary, and sequestration poses a high cost to the government. Sequestered jurors must be housed, fed, and guarded at the state’s expense. Sequestration also presents a great burden to the jury – for example, in the trial of O.J. Simpson, the jury was sequestered for 265 days.

However, most trials don’t last that long. Plenty of trials are over within a single day! In most trials that last more than a day, jurors are sent home with instructions not to engage with inappropriate influences or discuss the case until back in the courtroom. If you’re selected to serve on a jury, you’re likely to return home at the end of the day, perhaps with instructions to report to the court the next day. You may return home late when serving jury duty, though. Jurors sometimes must serve later into the night to finish a witness’s testimony, visit the site of an incident, or complete another part of the trial. When this happens, jurors should be given the opportunity to make appropriate arrangements, such as calling for childcare for their minor children.

What are my responsibilities as a juror?

There are two types of juror: a petit juror and a grand juror. Grand jurors review cases that are pending action in criminal court to determine if the facts warrant an indictment, and thus they do not serve in a trial. Petit jurors, also known as trial jurors, serve as the fact-finding body in both criminal and civil trials. In any trial, jurors can expect to hear testimony from witnesses, review evidence, listen to attorneys’ arguments, and render a decision. That is to say, they are responsible for making a finding of guilt or non-guilt (in a criminal trial) or liability or non-liability (in a civil trial).

Jurors are given plenty of instructions by the judge presiding over the trial they serve on. Typically, jurors are educated on their responsibilities at the onset of a trial. Jury instructions are incredibly important, and can greatly impact the outcome of a trial. Because jurors are almost never legal experts, they must be informed about the correct legal procedures governing a case in the course of their jury service. If a trial court fails to properly instruct a jury, this could lead to an appeal that results in a case being remanded for a new trial.

There’s a few key things that every juror should try to implement, though: pay attention, take notes, and be respectful to everyone involved. Some trials are very fact-intensive, and quite frankly, boring. Keeping notes will not only help you remember what happened when the time comes to deliberate, but will give you an anchor to stay alert. Being respectful to all parties involved is also important. Judges will not
tolerate disrespect in their courtroom. In addition, a juror’s show of contempt for one or the other party in a suit could lead to a mistrial.

The accuracy of the judicial system, and perhaps justice itself, rests on your shoulders! This can be a heavy burden in some trials. Ultimately, everyone wants to rest assured that they made an informed decision and did the right thing.

Will anyone know about my service as a juror?

Court proceedings are presumptively open to the public. After all, the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the people’s right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury. This means that the public can sit in a courtroom and observe effectively any trial. Holding public trials is vital to ensuring defendants get a fair trial and to holding the criminal justice system accountable. Since jurors are present during the trial, their identity might be recognized by members of the public that come to watch.

Jurors’ identities are not always kept private, but in some cases, a judge might order that a jury be kept anonymous. This is common in cases where others might intervene to influence the jury’s opinion, where the media might publicize the jurors, or where the jury must be kept anonymous for their own protection (i.e., in trials of organized crime leaders). In this circumstance, the jury’s identity might not be revealed to anyone, or it might only be revealed to the parties to the legal action. Innominate juries are fairly uncommon, since most cases are not high-profile enough to demand such precaution.

Although a jury itself is not private, jury deliberations have long been kept secret in the American legal tradition. Once a jury has heard each party’s closing arguments and received instructions from the judge, the jurors will move to the jury room to privately discuss the case until a verdict is reached. The entirety of the jury deliberation process is closely guarded in privacy. If the jury has questions about the case while deliberating, they will send a note to the judge through the bailiff, then receive a reading of the transcript or further instructions from the judge. Each party of the case should be present during the jury’s communication with the judge, but the public generally may not be. Jury deliberations are kept secret to ensure that juries reach a verdict free from outside influence or fear of repercussions. While the secrecy of jury deliberation has presented issues over time, it is generally considered a foundation of our court system.

Once a jury has finished deliberating, they will fill out a written verdict that delivers the decision on the case to the court. The jury will inform the bailiff that a verdict has been reached, then the bailiff will notify the judge. The parties will reconvene in open, public court to hear the jury’s decision.

In criminal trials, the jury must reach a unanimous verdict. This is also the case in most civil trials, however, some states allow a less than unanimous verdict to suffice in certain civil cases. Juries can take a day, or even weeks, to reach a unanimous decision. If the jury is unable to agree on a verdict, this is considered a mistrial. The case may then be tried by another jury at a later date, if the prosecutor or plaintiff decides to continue pursuing the case.

What happens when the trial is over?

After a jury has delivered a verdict in a case, their duty is considered complete. At this point, the jury should be free to go home.

In some cases, the judge or attorneys may have questions for a jury regarding their experience. Generally, neither the plaintiff/prosecutor nor the defendant have a right to know what happened during jury deliberation. However, there are certain circumstances when a juror’s statements may be called into question. For example, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled Pena-Rodriguez v. California (2017) that when “a juror makes a clear statement indicating that he or she relied on racial stereotypes or animus to convict a criminal defendant,” the trial court is permitted “to consider the evidence of the juror’s statement and any resulting denial of the jury trial guarantee.” This measure is in place to protect defendants’ Sixth Amendment right to trial by an impartial jury, since racial animus introduces an element of partiality.

Post-trial jury interviews don’t always concern the validity of the verdict, though. Oftentimes, attorneys and judges just want to gain insight on what information, witnesses, and presentations the jury found compelling – or not. The parties may also want to know if the jurors have any unresolved questions. This process allows attorneys and judges to hone their crafts by tapping into the first-hand experience of the jury. Such questions can be critical in shaping an attorney’s approach to future litigation.

Jury duty can be boring… but make the best of it!

Jury duty can be boring, at times stressful, and certainly inconvenient. However, we recommend you make the best of it. Serving on a jury can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to engage with the justice system, learn about the law, and connect with your community. Jurors are faced with a major responsibility, so it is important to demonstrate teamwork and humanity. Your service on a jury is not only an obligation, but a privilege of citizenship. By approaching a case fairly and rationally, you are protecting the integrity of our legal system and advocating for the interests of your community.

If you’ve been called to jury duty, we’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for your service. As a criminal defense team with combined decades of experience navigating jury trials, Best & Brock understands the difficulties jurors may face during a trial. Your contribution matters to us!

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