Know the Law – Jury Duty

When people hear the words “jury duty,” they oftentimes cringe. However, it’s important to remember that the American jury system is a foundation of our democracy. It is also one of the most unique and fair jury systems in the world.

The first step in being a juror is meeting the qualifications. Jurors must not have been convicted of a felony and be (1) a U.S. citizen who is at least 18 years old, (2) a resident of the county for which they’re selected, (3) able to communicate in English and (4) physically and mentally able to carry out the functions of a juror.

In order to be a juror, you must receive a jury summons in the mail. Take note, however, that receiving a summons does not mean you will actually serve on a jury. Rather, it means that you have been selected as a possible juror in a case. Also take note that a jury summons is an order from the court … so do not ignore it, or else you can be held in contempt.

When you get a jury summons in the mail, make sure you follow the instructions carefully. Some courts require that you report to the courthouse on a certain day and time, while other courts use a telephone call-in process. If you have any questions about what to do, call the number provided on the summons.

If you are told to be at the courthouse on a certain day and time, you are part of the “jury panel.” When you get to the court, you will likely be taken to a room with other potential jurors and names will be drawn randomly. If your name is called, you will be seated in the jury box.

At this time, the actual jury selection process begins (known as “voir dire”). The attorneys for each side will ask questions of you and the others seated in the jury box. This helps the lawyers determine if you’ll be an appropriate juror in the case. Sometimes the judge may also ask questions of the possible jurors. Likely questions may be (1) whether you’ve heard about case, (2) whether you know any of the parties, witnesses, etc. in the case, (3) your personal beliefs about certain situations and (4) whether you use the Internet and social media.

During the jury selection process, the attorney for each side can excuse a certain number of jurors without explaining why. Each side can also ask the judge to excuse jurors “for cause” – that is, a specific reason is given for excusing the potential juror and the judge makes the decision.

If you are selected to serve as a juror, there are a few other important things to remember:

• An employer cannot fire or discipline you (or threaten such action) if you’re summoned for jury duty or chosen to actually serve, even for a long trial. Also, employers can’t force a worker to go beyond normal hours to make up for the time they spend on jury service.
• Whether you can be excused from jury duty for “hardship” is up to the individual court. Hardship may include: (1) no transportation, (2) extreme financial burden to serve, (3) over the age of 70, (4) your absence affects another person’s care or safety, (5) serious medical issues (letter from a doctor is required).

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