If you live in America then chances are you will be called for jury duty at some point in your life. But what exactly is jury duty? In a nutshell, it is the civic duty of American citizens to serve on a jury if you are called. If you are selected, you are charged with hearing evidence and testimony in a criminal or civil trial and ultimately deciding the verdict. Many countries do not have jury duty; in the Netherlands, for example, the judges determine the verdict. However, jury duty does exist in more countries than just the United States. In Europe, for example, Belgium and France have jury duty.
Of course, there is a lot involved. Read on for everything you need to know about jury duty, from how you are selected to appear to what to expect during deliberations.
How you get selected for jury duty
When you receive a summons for jury duty, it means that the court has randomly selected your name from a list of potential jurors. This list is usually compiled from voter registration or driver’s license records. Once your name is selected, you will receive a notice in the mail with instructions on what to do next.
When the time comes, you must report to the courthouse on the date and time specified in the notice. It is important to note that although judging is technically voluntary, once you are called, you are legally required to appear unless you have a valid excuse for not showing up. If you fail to report or provide a valid excuse, you could be held in contempt and face a fine or even jail time.
The voir dire process
Once everyone summoned for jury duty has shown up at the courthouse, the judge will explain the case coming before the judge and ask general questions of the potential jurors. This process is known as “voir dire,” and its purpose is twofold: first, to help the attorneys decide which jurors they want on the jury, and second, to give potential jurors a chance to see if they have any objections or concerns that make them unable or unwilling to serve on the case in question. For example, if you have strong personal convictions that prevent you from being impartial, or if serving would place an unreasonable burden on your life, you can bring this up during voir dire and be excused.
If you have been selected as part of the jury panel, congratulations! You will now hear all the evidence and testimony presented during the trial, and you will ultimately decide on the verdict. Depending on the severity of the crime in question, the trial can take anywhere from several hours to several weeks – so be prepared for a time commitment if you are chosen.
Once all the evidence has been presented and both sides have made their closing arguments, it is time for deliberations. The judge will instruct the jury on the law applicable to the case and then send them to a room where they will discuss everything they have heard and come to a verdict. Deliberation can last from a few minutes (for simple cases) to several days (for complex cases). Ultimately, it is up to you and your fellow jurors to decide whether the defendant is guilty or innocent – so don’t take this responsibility lightly!
Conclusion: Serving on a jury is an important civic duty, but it is also an interesting experience that gives ordinary citizens a behind-the-scenes look at the American justice system. If you have been called to jury trials, make sure you know all your rights and responsibilities so you can ensure that justice is done – and enjoy your front row seat at one of the most fascinating institutions in the United States!