Jury duty is a very important civic duty that all American citizens should be prepared to perform when asked. And while it may seem like a hassle, it is actually one of our fundamental rights to protect us against governmental tyranny and help protect our freedoms.
Unfortunately, however, jury duty can be difficult and time-consuming. Not only will you potentially have to miss work, but you may also be required to evaluate very complicated legal matters. For example, if you have been asked to serve on a criminal trial jury, you'll be one of six to 12 people who will determine whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty. If you have been asked to serve on a civil case, you will decide whether an injured or wronged plaintiff should receive compensation or damages for their injuries or loss.
As jury service is one of the most important civic duties that you'll ever be expected to perform and it is critical to ensuring that our basic liberties are maintained, it’s important to take it seriously and take the right steps when asked to serve. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the steps necessary to prepare for jury duty.
1. Receive the summons and prepare for service.
If you have been asked to serve on a jury, you will receive a jury summons via mail. The summons will outline the date of service and will identify the court in which to appear. Do not ignore the summons. If you determine that you are unable to serve, you must immediately call the court and ask how to postpone your jury service. In some cases, you may also be required to complete information or a questionnaire prior to serving. Read all the forms sent to you very carefully, fill them out, and send them back to the court or bring them with you on the date of service.
In some cases, you may be exempt from serving. Information about exemptions should be provided in the information that you are sent, but generally, you are exempt if you are over the age of 70, you are a student, you have recently been a juror, you have legal custody and supervision of young children, you are serving in the military and currently deployed, you have a severe medical condition, or you are the primary caregiver of an elderly person.
Another step after reviewing the summons and completing any jury forms is to schedule time off from work. The good news is that most states bar employers from penalizing workers who are required to serve on a jury. Unfortunately, before you are impaneled on the jury and know more about the case, you will not know how many days of work that you might miss.
2. Show up on time and dress appropriately.
After you have completed the paperwork and sent it back to the courthouse, you do not have any other responsibilities until the day on which you are called to serve. On that day, you are required to arrive at the correct location on time. Make sure you know the location of the court. Dress appropriately and listen to all the instructions given to you.
Remember, jury duty may require some waiting. Bring a sweater, a book, your phone and your laptop. You may also need money for snacks, lunch or a drink. Do not bring any weapons of any sort, including guns, knives, pepper spray or mace.
3. Enter the courtroom and participate in voir dire.
Eventually, you will receive all the instructions that you need and will be guided into the courtroom to participate in the process known as voir dire. It sounds complicated, but it’s really just the process for the lawyers and the judge to ask each juror questions to determine if each juror can be fair and impartial. Questions from the lawyers and the judge can vary, and there is no way to prepare for this part of the process.
The important thing to remember during voir dire is to speak clearly and loudly, and answer the questions truthfully. Some jurors may attempt to avoid participating in jury duty by tailoring their answers to appear biased or prejudicial. This is not recommended. If you have a valid reason to avoid jury duty, it is best to contact the court prior to the trial date.
4. Listen carefully to the trial evidence.
If you are not selected for jury duty, you will be dismissed. Some jurors may be required to return to complete their service at a later date. If you are selected, however, you will be required to report to the appropriate courtroom.
As a juror, you will be required to attend the entire trial, which includes the opening statements, the presentation of evidence and the closing arguments. After both sides have presented their case, you will be asked to deliberate, make a decision and return a verdict. After the verdict has been given and the trial ends, you will be dismissed from service.