• What is a jury?

    Date: 09.10.07 | by Judge Tom.

     A jury has been described as a random slice of the community chosen to decide a lawsuit. After you turn eighteen, you may receive a notice in the mail requiring you to appear for jury duty at any of the nation′s courts where trials take place.Your name is randomly selected from different sources, such as the motor vehicle or voter registration lists. 

    • About 45% of Americans who are sent jury notices show up at the courthouse. (Some notices aren′t received, and some are ignored. Some people get excused before their date of appearance.)
    • Of those who appear, almost two-thirds avoid serving on juries due to work, personal conflicts, illness, or a lawyer′s challenge.

    Source: Study by National Center for State Courts, quoted in The Jury: Disorder in the Court by Stephen J. Adler (Doubleday, 1994)


    Juries decide the facts of a case by considering the evidence presented by both sides. The evidence may be physical (a gun, X-rays), demonstrative (charts or diagrams), and testimonial (witnesses who take the stand and testify). Once the jury determines what happened, its only duty is to apply the law to those facts. The judge tells the jury what the laws are regarding the case. A verdict is reached by applying the law to the facts of the case.

    You may be one of six to twelve members sworn in to decide a civil or criminal case. If you have a good reason not to serve, you may be excused. For example, the nature of your work or a family emergency may keep you from serving. If you′re excused, you may be called for jury duty at a later date. The length of the trial is also taken into consideration.  If the judge tells you that the trial is expected to take several months or longer, you may have a valid reason for asking to be excused.

    Photo by Po Yang

      In choosing a jury, any form of discrimination is prohibited. You can′t be excluded solely because of your race, gender, religion, or ethnicity. Once you′re called to the courthouse as part of a pool to be interviewed, you may be excused for various reasons, but not if purely discriminatory. Only prison inmates and the mentally ill are excused as a class from jury duty. Even George Bush, Jr., the governor of Texas, and Rudolph Guiliani, the mayor of New York City, were called for jury duty in 1996.

    You may be paid a fee for each day you serve, as well as travel expenses. These vary around the country. Depending on the type of case, you may be sequestered during all or part of the trial. The purpose of sequestering is to protect or insulate you from outside influences. Once sequestered, the jury stays together until it reaches a verdict. The court makes arrangements for your meals and overnights in a hotel.

    The court bailiff is your contact with the outside world and is responsible for seeing that your needs are met. There may be restrictions on which newspapers, magazines, and TV or radio programs are available to you while you′re sequestered. Because sequestering is expensive and inconvenient to jurors and their families, it′s rare to sequester a jury.


    Corey Leopold

    You may have a teen court in your community. This is a peer review program that allows middle school and high school students the opportunity to participate in a fellow student′s case. With the guidance of local attorneys and a judge, you and your friends can decide the penalty for unlawful behavior. This usually applies to misdemeanors and petty offenses only, not felonies.

    In most states, there are no juries in juvenile court because the U.S. Constitution doesn′t require it. The juvenile court judge acts as both the jury (in deciding the facts) and the judge (in applying the law to the facts). If a juvenile is transferred to adult court, a jury may be used to decide the case. Here are a few other jury terms you may be wondering about:

    • Foreman. The man or woman designated to speak for the jury, selected by the jury at the beginning of their deliberations.
    • Deliberation. Once the formal presentation of evidence during the trial ends, the case is turned over to the jury. Their duty is to decide the facts of the case, apply the law given to them by the judge, and reach a decision. To deliberate, as applied to a jury, means to consider and weigh the facts as a group.
    • Instructions. These are the laws about the subject matter of the case (such as what negligence is in a car accident case or what the legal definition of shoplifting is). The instructions are stated to the jury by the judge. Some courts allow the jury to keep a copy of the instructions during deliberations.
    • Verdict. The formal finding or decision of the jury. It′s decided in secret, with only the jury members present, and then reported to the court.
    • Hung jury. This means the jury is deadlocked or unable to reach a verdict after a reasonable time of deliberation. This results in a mistrial, where the case may be retried or possibly settled by the parties without a trial.
    • Jury view. A jury is taken to an accident scene to view where the event took place. For example, the jury in the O.J. Simpson criminal trial was taken to both the defendant′s home and the scene of the crime. Jury views are rare.
    • Grand jury. A group of twelve to twenty-three men and women who are sworn in to consider evidence presented to them by the prosecutor. Their job is to determine whether there′s a reason to believe (probable cause) that a crime has been committed and who committed it. The grand jury doesn′t determine guilt or innocence. In deciding that a crime has been committed, the grand jury votes for charging the person responsible, which results in an indictment. The person charged either pleads guilty or not guilty. If not guilty, he or she may go to trial before a regular jury of six to twelve people.
    Judge Tom

    This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of AsktheJudge.info. He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench. He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found hiking, traveling and reading.

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