What Happens If I Get Summoned for Jury Duty?
I’ve been summoned to jury duty many times. I really want to serve so I can have the experience from the juror’s perspective. But, unfortunately for me, lawyers rarely make it through the process and actually get selected to sit on a jury. I have been through the process from the lawyer’s side quite a few times picking juries on my cases.
So I’ll run through the process for you so you will know what to expect. First, you will likely be sat in a big room with the entire pool of folks who received a summons. You likely received a questionnaire with basic questions including age, profession, and a few other questions that you will have to turn in. The judge, or a judge, will address the group and start the weeding out process. He or she will probably ask people who feel like there is some extreme reasons why they cannot serve to come forward. He/she will make individual determinations before moving on.
The remaining potential jurors will then be instructed to stay to begin the final selection process, or instructed to leave for the day. If instructed to leave, you will probably be required to call in each evening to see if you need to show up the next day.
If you make the list for the final selection process, you will be given a number and directed to the court room where you will have an assigned seat with 40 plus other potential jurors.
The judge and the lawyers for each side will now begin the process, which is called Voir Dire. Voir Dire is a French term which means, “to speak truth”. Most legal terms are Latin, so not sure why we adopted a French term, but I digress.
First, the judge will explain the basics of the case, give the names of the parties and lawyers and ask if you know anything about the case or the parties. If you answer in the affirmative, the court will ask follow up questions like “how do you know the lawyer?” and “will this affect your ability to be fair and impartial?”. After the judge asks questions, one attorney for each side will be given an opportunity to ask additional questions.
After all the questions are asked, you will be allowed to leave temporarily. Once the entire group is gone, the lawyers begin the selection. This is what you don’t get to see. Each side is allowed a limited number of general strikes depending on the type of case. This basically means they can strike or remove the particular juror for no reason.
Before the general strikes are announced, each side is allowed to make arguments that certain jurors should be stricken for “cause”. These strikes don’t count against the limited number of strikes provided. I was once defending a guy on marijuana charges. One of the potential jurors said he would never convict anyone for a marijuana charge because he “didn’t think there was anything wrong with it”. So guess what? He got struck for cause. Too bad for my client.
Once strikes for cause are finalized, the specific selection process starts. Each side has a chart of the entire panel. Notes were made by the attorneys on this chart during the questioning process. The goal is to go through the list numerically trying to get the number of jurors needed for the case (usually 12 plus an alternate). So the judge will tender juror number one. Each side is allowed to either accept, or strike. The judge will then move to the next juror and the process continues until the panel is full. It is a strategic process by the attorneys.
After the selection process is complete, the entire panel will be brought back into the courtroom and the judge will announce those selected. Everyone else will be allowed to leave. If selected, you will get to sit through the entire trial and make a decision at the end. This could be days, weeks, or longer. Most likely, you will be able to go home each evening. In rare cases, jurors are sequestered. This means you would have to stay in a hotel during the trial. But again, that is rare.
The jury is the most important aspect of our judicial process. So if summoned, I hope you will take it seriously. And remember, if you receive a summons make sure you appear on the date and time listed. A warrant could be issued for failure to appear. If you absolutely cannot appear, I recommend you visit the court clerk’s office and try to get an excuse early.
Let me know if you have any questions.