If you have never been summoned for jury duty, it can be a bit nerve wracking on your first day not knowing how things work. I did a little research to put my mind at ease and found all sorts of information out there, some good, some not so much.
The California Jury Information Resource Center has essentially everything you need to know in an easy to read format. Don’t miss the “Ideals Made Real” Juror Orientation Video, a 14 minute overview of the entire process. If you live in a state other than California, I suspect a quick Google search will find a similar website for your state.
QUICK AND DIRTY SUMMARY OF JURY SELECTION – CRIMINAL TRIAL
- RECEIVE SUMMONS. Receive a jury duty summons in the mail. If you need a postponement due to a scheduling conflict, there should be a section on the form you can fill out and mail back, thus bypassing having to show up on jury selection day. Note that you are only allowed one postponement per 12 month period;
- CALL FOR SCHEDULE. Call the number on the summons the night before your scheduled day to find out when and where to show up. You will enter your badge number and receive automated instructions. Often, the message indicates you are not required to show up the next day but must call the next night to see if they need you the following day. This can continue all week until the message finally says you are not needed at all this year. If that happens, you have fulfilled your jury duty requirement for the next 12 months;
- SHOW UP. Show up as instructed (a step often skipped, believe it or not) and take a seat in the jury assembly room. A court employee will provide instructions and outline the very limited reasons why you may be excused from jury duty;
- HURRY UP AND WAIT. Proceed to the courtroom when instructed. Often, those requesting to be excused from jury duty stay behind to be cleared by the court separately. This is done by the judge so those of you proceeding to the courtroom are stuck waiting until the judge completes that task and joins you in the courtroom to begin the actual jury selection process. See Tips below: bring a book;
- LISTEN. Badge numbers are selected at random. If your number is called, proceed to the jury box. Listen carefully to everything the judge and lawyers say, whether or not you are in the first group called, because you may be called in the next round. This is the most time consuming part of the jury selection process. The judge describes the case and explains juror duties, then the lawyers question each individual juror;
- ANSWER TRUTHFULLY. When questioned, answer truthfully even if it means exposing some sort of prejudice, noting that prejudice simply means any preconceived opinion or feeling. The judge and lawyers need to know how you feel about things to determine if you would be a good fit as a juror for that particular trial. They will ask, among other things:
- Whether you know the defendant, the lawyers, or any of the potential witnesses, and
- Whether you, a family member, or close friend have ever been a victim of the crime being prosecuted;
Answering yes does not necessarily disqualify you. They will then ask if having those feelings, knowing that person, or having that experience in the past will affect your ability to be a fair and impartial juror. Do not be surprised if they dismiss you even if you say it will not affect your ability to be fair and impartial, though.
- TAKE THE OATH. If you are called to the jury box and not subsequently dismissed by the judge, the prosecutor or the defense attorney, you will take the following oath:
"Do you, and each of you, understand and agree that you will well and truly try the cause now pending before this court, and a true verdict render according only to the evidence presented to you and to the instructions of the court?"
CONGRATULATIONS, you are about to embark on a journey of discovery about our legal system, the subject matter of the trial, and probably make some new friends in the form of your fellow jurors along the way.
This is just a quick summary of the jury selection process. See Selection of a Jury for more detail.
TIPS FOR JURY SELECTION DAY
- Bring a book. Much of your time will be spent waiting so bring a book or something else to help you pass the time, like a crossword puzzle or an MP3 player.
- Empty your purse. Do you normally carry everything but the kitchen sink in your purse? Along with obvious things you should not bring to the courthouse – like potential weapons – laptops, cell phones, cameras, and tape recorders are also not allowed. I forgot that I carry my camera in my purse at all times so had to return it to my car but they said nothing about my picture-taking, internet-capable cell phone. Weird.
- Bring money for the vending machines. There is usually an area with vending machines for both snacks and drinks. If you did not bring your own refreshments and do not care for free coffee, bring dollars and small change for the vending machines.
- Wear layers. Dress comfortably but also respectfully for court and keep in mind large buildings are often too hot or too cold or both, depending on where you are sitting. Bring a sweater and/or wear layers you can add or peel off as necessary.
I thoroughly enjoyed my 5 days as a juror on an attempted murder trial in terms of how much I learned about our judicial system, especially the parts I thought I knew but clearly did not. Fascinating. I will post my experience separately but leave you with this:
If you have a chance to serve on a criminal trial, DO IT. Not only will you educate yourself about how our judicial system works, you may also get a window into how other people less fortunate than you live their lives. It was a “Holy crap, I have a good life” moment for me.
Go forth, my friends, and be jurors.
Photo credit: LawForWA.org