Going through the mail, you see an official-looking envelope. Curious, you open it, and find out that you’ve just been called for jury duty. Wait a minute! Why did you get this? What is the importance of a jury? Who decides how people get called for duty, and how do you become a juror? Where did the jury system originate?
A million questions are probably running through your head after you opened that letter, and you’re wondering just what you’ve gotten yourself into. In order to really understand what jury duty is you need to understand where it got started, and how it became an important part of the American legal process. We’ll also talk about the different types of juries, the selection process, and some of the important rules surrounding jury selection and the jury process.
Why is the jury system important? Believe it or not, the answer to this question can be found in the experience of the English people almost 800 years ago. The British people were tired of being continually dominated by tyrant kings who used their power to demand the property, or death, or enslavement of people on a whim.
The priest who led the Church of England got together with many English nobles. They decided that people ought to have certain rights, including the right to their property and their freedom. They demanded that King John Lackland sign a document establishing these rights, which prevented kings from taking people’s land, ordering their death, or enslaving them.
This document was known as the Magna Carta, which means Great Charter. The Magna Carta is important for several reasons. First, it was used as the foundation for the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.
It also introduced a concept known as due process, which today guarantees every American citizen who stands trial the right to a jury of peers. What does a jury of your peers mean? This definition of peers meant that anyone who was free and male might be called for jury service. (You might be surprised to learn when were women allowed on a jury, though!
King John’s son, Henry III, introduced the first type of jury that involved witnesses. This was known as the first petit jury. What is a petit juror
? This is a citizen who is selected to serve on a trial jury.
What is the job of the petit jury? This group of people decides what facts are true in a trial. A civil jury is composed of six to eight people, depending on the state in which the court is located. A federal or criminal jury is made up of twelve people.
Where did the jury system originate? During the Middle Ages, England’s king or another high-ranking official decided who was going to serve jury duty. When the Founding Fathers of our country decided that all citizens had the right to due process, though, they determined that everyone had a right to a jury of peers.
So if you request a trial in any of the U.S. courts, how is a jury chosen? What does a jury of your peers mean? It means that anyone who makes up the jury pool should be representative of the community in which you live. The definition of jury of peers doesn’t mean that all of the people on the jury are of the same race or gender or age as the person being tried.
What kind of people get called for jury duty? They are people who live in the same community that you do, speak English, and have never been convicted of a criminal felony.
The Founding Fathers also had to decide who is eligible to be a juror. In order to make the jury system fair, they also had to decide what kind of people get called for jury duty. Over the last two hundred years, different states have developed slightly different rules. Overall, though, the same basic requirements apply to everyone – now.
Did you ever wonder when were women allowed on a jury in the United States? The first woman to be a part of the jury process was chosen in 1951 in Georgia. It was not until 1953, however, that this practice became the law of the land.
For any of the U.S city, state or federal courts, how is a jury chosen ? First, anyone who is eligible to be a juror must be at least 18 years of age, a citizen of the United States, and must not have been convicted of a felony. Additionally, the person must be mentally and physically able to perform their duties as a juror. All states agree on these basic requirements.
Some states allow for jury duty exceptions. To maintain the definition of jury of peers, however, most states place a number of limitations on who may be automatically excused from jury duty. For example, courts in the state of California allow peace officers or persons over 70 with a mental or physical disability to be automatically excused.
In contrast, the constitution of New York state does not permit any automatic jury duty exceptions . People in Michigan, however, have their jury duty excused or postponed for various reasons, depending on the judge’s discretion. So, depending on where you live, you may or may not be automatically excused from this public service!
What is a jury made up of, and how is a jury chosen ? First, to keep the jury system fair, jurors are chosen by some random method from the county in which they live. Some states obtain lists of all drivers over the age of 18 from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV). Other states randomly select from lists of people who are registered to vote.
How do you become a juror ? All of the people chosen by these random methods are required to appear answer to the court that calls them for service. This may be a municipal, or town court, or it could even be a federal court.
How are jurors selected for jury duty ? First, not everyone who is called to report for jury duty will actually serve on a jury. For example, if you are hospitalized when you are called for duty, you will be excused. Likewise, if you are serving overseas in the military, you will not be required to appear. In most cases, though, you will have to appear at the time and place noted on your summons to determine whether you will serve.
Many of the people who are called to appear will be selected to serve on a grand jury. This is a large group of people that decide whether there is enough evidence to suggest that a person has committed a crime, and should stand trial for that crime. Some, however, will be called to serve on a petit jury.
What is a petit juror, and what is the job of a petit jury ? First, each side of a case has a plaintiff, who is making the complaint, and a defendant, who is the person arguing that the complaint is not true.
A petit juror is someone who has been called to be part of a group of people that determine whether the truth lies on the side of the plaintiff or the defendant. If you are still wondering “Why is the jury system important?” think of what would happen if only one person had the right to decide who was right or who was telling the truth! Sometimes, as the old saying goes, two heads really are better than one!
How is a jury selected ? First, a group of people is called into a courtroom to go through the process called jury selection. Once they get to the courts, how is a jury chosen? First, the attorneys for each side ask questions of each person who makes up the jury pool.
Each side has the right to decide without any reason that some of the people who have been called for duty should not serve on the jury. This is called a peremptory challenge . Lawyers use this to excuse jurors who might not be favorable to their cause (13).
Some legal experts argue, though, that if a person can be excused for no reason at all, how is a jury selected that actually represents your peers? After all, what is a jury made up of a lawyer’s definition of which their client’s peers should be (13)?
In addition to peremptory challenges, each side has a right to challenge someone for cause. This is called “voir dire.” This means that, if one side believes that the person being interviewed is biased against his or her side, that person can be dismissed (14).
Lately, however, many law experts argue that attorneys have been given too much leeway in the process of voir dire . For example, asking a man how many times he beats his wife during the murder trial of Kevin Nicholson, or asking a parent whether he or she believes in spanking a child during the jury selection process for a child abuse case, may be considered an abuse of this process.
How are jurors selected for jury duty instructed about how to do their job ? First, before the case begins, the judge gives the jury a full explanation of their duties, and reminds them that they are called to be impartial. The jury then listens to both side give evidence and argues their case.
After that, the jury meets to discuss the case with each other, and continues to discuss the case until they reach an agreement. The laws of different states vary on whether a verdict must be unanimous. This is especially true in civil case jury verdicts .
In fact, 33 U.S. states do not require unanimous decisions in civil case jury verdicts. Arizona, for example, only requires six out of eight people to agree. California, Idaho, Maine, and Utah also require only a three-fourths majority.
Another factor that helps to demonstrate just what is the importance of a jury is a concept called jury nullification. Although this sounds complicated, the definition of jury nullification is easy to understand. This happens during a criminal trial when the jury states that the defendant is not guilty even though they believe that he did what he was accused of doing. This definition of jury nullification or a jury’s right to do this, however, is not usually explained by the judge issuing the instructions.
One of the arguments against jury nullification is that sometimes, judges think juries will begin to take the law into their own hands and decide for themselves what the law should be. Sometimes, judges fear that juries will feel too much responsibility and take too much of a burden on themselves about the outcome of the case.
Some of the most notorious examples of abuse of this power, and some of the strongest arguments against jury nullification, arise from the Civil Rights era of the 1960s when all-white juries refused to convict white persons who had murdered an African-American person or someone who was working for the Civil Rights movement.
Now that you understand what a jury is, and how important it is to our country’s judicial system, maybe opening that envelope wont seem quite as bad. Sure, jury duty can be a chore, but it is, after all, a duty. What if you need a jury for a civil case someday? You’ll be glad there are people like you who were willing to serve!