Receiving a jury summons in the mail evokes a feeling of dread in many people. It probably means missing work for at least a day or two, which is annoying for many employees—and employers. If you're selected to serve on a jury for a trial, you may have to be there for even longer.
Some prospective jurors, on the other hand, might relish the opportunity to perform their civic duty. It's an opportunity to learn about the court and legal systems and take part in democracy. While some aspects of jury duty may feel tedious and annoying, others can be exciting.
So exactly how does jury duty work?
1. First, you'll receive your summons in the mail asking you to show up at the courthouse on a specific day. Keep in mind that if you are summoned, you must appear. You may ask for your service to be postponed, but you will still have to serve at the later date.
2. When you show up at the courthouse, you'll be directed to a jury assembly room, where you'll wait with other potential jurors You may be given some information about what to expect and possibly watch a short video about jury selection and the trial process.
3. Potential jurors will be called to go into different courtrooms at various points. When your name is called, you'll enter a courtroom with other prospective jurors. Keep in mind that if your name is not called the first day you appear, you'll probably have to come back the next day.
4. When you enter the courtroom, the judge will outline the basic facts of the case and introduce the lawyers and other people involved in the case. You'll learn information such as whether this is a civil or criminal case and some basic background.
5. The judge will also ask if anyone has a compelling problem that would prevent her from serving, such as a medical issue or family or work responsibilities. If you do, the judge will ask you to explain the issue and will determine whether or not you are relieved of your jury duty.
6. Next comes a process called voir dire, during which the judge and attorneys question prospective jurors about any biases, conflicts of interest, or ability to remain fair and impartial given the facts of the case. Depending on your responses during the voir dire process, you may be dismissed at any point, and may not receive an explanation as to why. Attorneys are allowed to issue a certain number of peremptory challenges, meaning they can dismiss jurors for any reason. If you are dismissed, you may have to return to the juror assembly room and may be called to another courtroom later.
7. Ultimately, the judge and lawyers will select 12 jurors, as well as a limited number of jurors who will serve as alternates. If you are not selected, you may have to return to the jury pool room, depending on the instructions you receive from the court.
The jury selection process could take a few days to reach an adequate number of jurors. Once the jury selection process is complete, and you are selected, you will be sworn in and receive instructions on the proceedings. You will be reminded to remain fair and impartial and avoid forming opinions about the case until you've heard and seen all the evidence. You'll also be instructed not to discuss the case with anyone else.
The trial may last as little as a few days or as long as several months. You may be hearing civil cases or criminal cases. You could also sit as part of a grand jury to determine whether there is probable cause, or enough evidence demonstrating an individual has committed a crime to proceed to trial.
Finally, you'll deliberate with the other jurors in an attempt to reach a verdict. You may only consider evidence that was presented at trial (otherwise, you are committing jury misconduct, which could result in a mistrial). Once you reach a verdict, the jury foreperson or judge will read it aloud in the courtroom. If you can't come to an agreement, the jury is "hung" and will be retried.
Important Information to Keep in Mind
• Employers are legally required to allow their employees to serve as jurors, although the specific statutes vary from state to state. Most states do not require employers to pay their employees for the time they serve on juries, although some do. If your employer does not pay you your regular salary during your service, you may receive at least $40 per day from the state.
• If you are summoned for jury duty and fail to appear, or if you lie to get out of jury duty, you may be held in contempt of court, which means you'll have to pay a fine and even serve a few days of prison time. So don't lie, and don't ignore your summons.