Yes, you read that right – John Day is on jury duty this week and next. On Wednesday, John was put in the jury box but ultimately he was excused from serving on that particular jury via a peremptory challenge (explained below). He may get another chance before his term expires. The phrase “jury duty” does not illicit a positive response from most people. We get it. It can be a little vexing – from the inception of the process when your heart skips a beat because you have pulled from your mailbox an official letter from the Sheriff’s Department until the end when you may not even get to vote on the case because you were the alternate juror in the event another juror got sick, etc. But here are some things you should know if you do get called for jury duty.
- Jury duty can be fun. I (Joy Day) served on a jury about 14 years ago, and I loved it. It was fascinating to see a trial from a different vantage point and to be privy to and participate in a jury’s deliberations. But it is not just trial lawyers who enjoy jury duty, almost everyone I know who has served on a jury enjoyed the process overall. In short, jury duty gets a bad rap.
- Jury duty is important. Our society has determined that one of the best ways to resolve a dispute that the parties can not resolve themselves is to submit it to non-biased members of the community. Like voting, jury duty should be viewed as a privilege. While it has its flaws, and as long as certain rules are followed, it remains a wonderful mechanism for dispute resolution.
- Jury duty requires non-biased jurors. Typically, if you get called to jury duty, the judge will summon a large number of prospective jurors to the courtroom. Then, the judge will randomly select certain folks to go sit in the actual jury box. Thereafter, the process of voir dire begins. Attorneys for both sides, and sometimes the judge, will ask jurors a plethora of questions. Many will seem reasonable, some will seem personal and yet others will seem inane. Although it may not be obvious at the outset, the lawyers are trying to ferret out which jurors may harbor some bias, even if it seems remote. As a juror, your only obligation is to answer truthfully and completely. If a question is too personal for you to respond in front of a courtroom full of people, simply indicate you would like to respond privately. When this happens, the judge will call you to the bench and have a private conversation with you, the lawyers and the court reporter.
- Jurors may be excused for cause or via a peremptory challenge. For cause means the attorneys have demonstrated to the judge’s satisfaction that you are not suitable for the case for one reason or another. For instance, you would most certainly be excused for cause if you were related to one of the parties. Peremptory challenges can be described as gut-check challenges. The attorneys representing a party think there is something in your background or something about how you answered a particular question that makes it more likely than not that you would tend to vote for the other side without regard for the evidence. For example, you were a teacher for 40 years and the case involves the termination of a teacher. Attorneys for the school board would probably be inclined to exercise a peremptory challenge because they believe you would more likely identify with the teacher than the board.
- If you get seated as a juror, pay attention and follow the rules. The two biggest rules are: (A) do not discuss the case until time for deliberations; (B) do not do outside research. In New York, a doctor accused of killing his wife recently had his conviction overturned because a juror had sent texts (roughly 7,000 of them) to people discussing the case and visiting websites of news organizations that were covering the case closely. The emotional and financial expense of retrying the defendant will be enormous and all because a single juror did not abide by the rules. After the trial is over, you can read all the coverage. You can talk about it as much or as little as you want but, during the trial, the only source of information should be only that which is admissible in court.
So if you get called for jury duty, go do your civic duty and enjoy the process. Think of it as being on a live TV show – just don’t watch TV if they are covering the case. I will let you know if John Day gets seated as a juror next week.