Let's face it, no one likes getting a jury duty request. The first sign that you will heading down the bureaucratic path is when you receive a letter in the mail regarding a trial date and time that you're expected to arrive. Your name can end up on the prospective juror list if it's in one or more databases, including voter registrations, utility bills, drivers licenses and property tax rolls. Regardless of your situation and how you ended up getting "called for jury duty", there are certain criteria that must be met and answers that must be filed with the court clerk before you arrive in the courtroom.
When you get your letter, there will be a set of instructions with it. It really will pay you in the long run to (a) keep this letter, (b) read it carefully and (c) do what it tells you. There are now fines and other civil penalties that can be meted out if you ignore the letter, which is, in point of fact, a legal summons. Be sure to check the due date on the card, and note that (in many locales) the first thing you must do is call a specified phone number and check in. If there is no reason that you cannot serve, you will be told to show at the appointed time and place.
Exemptions and exclusions
If, after reading the instructions, you see that you are not required to serve, you will have to fill a form and mail it in. There is a section to fill out for individuals that have legitimate excuses to miss jury duty. Of course, there are no longer very many reasons that the court will accept. All of the exemption options available to you will be listed on the letter's questionnaire.
If you have been convicted of a felony, are a sworn peace officer currently on active duty, are in the military (with certain exceptions) or are the sole support and care for an elderly or disabled person, you will be disqualified from service in most states. Again, if you have determined that you are not eligible for an excused absence, you are normally expected to call a phone number on the letter to confirm the specific time and place of your jury duty.
Going to court
If you are selected to be in a pool of potential jurors, you will need to arrive on time, without fail. Being a little bit early never hurts, but being even a bit late can get you in hot water. Missing the appointment entirely will result in a bench warrant being issued in some states and counties. When you finally do get to the right place, there will typically be a court officer (bailiff, sheriff, clerk) that will hand you a form to complete with your name and various other types of information that the court needs.
This information you supply will be combined with other data and used to help select the final panel of jurors that will be seated for the trial. Once the officer has collected each form, the judge is then informed that the potential jurors have been "prepped" and they will then be taken into the courtroom.
From Rome to Britain to America
Defense attorneys are present in the courtroom when the "jury pool" arrives, and defendants may or may not be depending upon a number of legal circumstances. In criminal trials, the plaintiff is a prosecutor for the state or county in which the crime was committed, with the case being filed by the district attorney's office in most jurisdictions. The judge will brief those present in court, including any spectators or media in the gallery, about the case and then the jury selection begins.
"Voir dire" (vwahr deer) is a phrase in law that derives from an Anglo-Norman corruption of the Latin phrase "verum dicere" (to tell the truth). It refers to the process whereby attorneys for both sides, the plaintiff/prosecution and the defense, ask questions of potential jurors to determine their suitability for open-minded, even-handed deliberations. As each name is called, attorneys from both sides will ask the individuals certain questions about themselves and their beliefs, as well as things pertaining to the case. This is the only way to determine if that person will be a suitable choice for the final jury that is "impaneled" to hear the case.
Civic duty can cost you
If you are chosen as a juror, your service is required as a prospective juror for a minimum of one day. In most every jurisdiction the court will tell you to be prepared to remain the entire day. You will typically be advised that, if sworn in as a juror, your jury service will continue until the trial is complete, with the average trial nationwide taking from three days to one week. However, you cannot know in advance how long your service will be. This can present some problems for working people, students and parents of small children.
Some employers will reimburse employees for jury duty time, while others will not. The "per diem" (daily payment) from courts ranges from zero in some states to $15 in California, commencing on the second day of the trial (the first one is always free, as the old saying goes). You will no longer be excused for financial hardship in most states, so get a babysitter for the kids, use up your vacation time and figure out a way to make up for the loss of pay. The fact is, juries are one of a free nation's best bulwarks against tyranny in government, and everyone should be willing to serve when called.