If you’re not familiar with the criminal justice system, the process of jury selection may seem somewhat confusing. Serving as a juror in America is both a duty and an essential part of the way our justice system operates. Let’s take a closer look at how jurors are selected.
Potential jurors are selected in each voting district, based on past voter records, Potential jurors are typically notified by mail of their jury duty date and time. Attendance is mandatory; however, if serving on a jury would present a hardship to you or your family, you may ask to be excused by completing the appropriate section on the jury card before returning it. Possible reasons to be excused include:
- Being the sole earner for your family
- Being the sole caretaker for an ill family member
- Essential work-related travel
- Pre-scheduled events (like surgery)
Your municipality should then inform you whether your request to be excused has been granted.
The Jury Pool
Once you report on your appointed date, you are part of what’s called the “jury pool”—a group of potential jurors from whom final jury selection will be made. As a prospective juror, you may be asked to sit on a criminal trial or a civil trial. Criminal trials involve cases where a crime was committed that is prosecuted by the state. Civil trials, on the other hand, are used to settle disputes in which a crime may or may not be involved (landlord-tenant disputes, business practice disputes, divorces, etc.). A good part of your day in the jury pool may be spent waiting to be called. Be patient, and bring a book. Cellphone use is not allowed in most courthouses.
In U.S. courts, the process of screening jurors is called “voir dire”—a French phrase meaning “that which is true.” During this process, both the prosecution and defense attorneys are permitted to ask potential jurors questions designed to root out any bias or predisposition that a juror may have that might prejudice their judgment. Potential jurors can be excluded if they fail to meet the standard of either the defense or prosecution. Some possible reasons for exclusion during voir dire include…
- Personal knowledge of the case
- Racial, gender, religious, or other bias
- Conflict of interest (e.g., having a business relationship with a defendant)
- Employment in law enforcement or criminal justice
- Family members employed in law enforcement
In some cases, a potential juror may be called into chambers to discuss any possible conflict of interest in participating in the trial. If a juror passes screening by both the defense and prosecution and is deemed acceptable by the judge, they are then empanelled to that jury. (Note: voir dire is also used in other situations, such as to establish the credentials of an expert witness.)
Your Role as a Juror
If you are selected as a juror, it’s an important job that should not be taken lightly. Your role is to evaluate the facts of a case and to make a determination based on the principles defined by the law.
- Follow any and all instructions you are given by the judge.
- Make determinations based on the facts of the case, rather than emotional bias
- Refrain from discussing any details of the case with family
- If you are sequestered (held over and isolated for a longer trial), your municipality will likely offer you a voucher for hotel accommodations for the duration of the trial).
We hope this quick review better helps you to understand the jury selection process.
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