From the Handbook for Trial Jurors: Serving in the United States District Courts

Cases in the "US District Court" are divided into 2 general classes; "criminal" cases and "civil" cases.

In criminal cases:

  • The person charged with the violation is the "defendant".
  • Charges can be brought against the defendant in two ways; an "indictment" and an "information".
  • An indictment is a written accusation by a "grand jury". An information is a written charge filed by the the "US Attorney" and not the grand jury.
  • After the indictment or the information is filed an "arraignment" takes place. This is the time that the defendant is asked if s/he pleads "guilty" or "not guilty".

In civil cases:

  • The person who begins the case is the "plaintiff".
  • The other "party" is the "defendant".
  • The plaintiff states his claim in a paper called the "complaint". The defendant answers in a paper called the "answer". These papers are the main "pleadings" in the case.

The jury selection:
A "panel" of prospective jurors is brought into the courtroom and sworn in. This question period is called "voir dire". This is to allow the selection of an unbiased jury in the particular case. Unlimited "challenges" for "cause" are allowed by both parties. The parties also have the right to a limited number of "peremptory challenges" for no cause but these can't be used to select sex or race.

Article III, Section 2 of the United States Constitution states, "the trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, shall be by jury". There was further specification of this statement in the 6th Amendment and the 7th Amendment. The 6th amendment specified that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury. The 7th amendment stated that in all suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved. From this foundation, developed the jury selection system that many of us are famailiar with. The jury selection process is refered to as the voir dire.

In large citites, like New York, the jury selection process has become tedious. An individual is asked to perform his civic duty by appearing at a selected courthouse within his district. If he or she is selected to perform state jury duty, they may have to drive 5 or 10 miles from their home to get to the local courthouse. However, when one is requested to serve as a federal juror, the trip can become much larger. Many people have to drive 60 or 70 miles to perform their civic duty. Once there, they waste much of their day sitting and reading, uncomfortably dozing off on 10 year old chairs whose cushions have been unable to contour to any particular shape except for uncomfortable.

Once you are summoned to a courtroom, a feeling that the wheels of justice have begun to move overcomes the you. Unfortunately, if you only brought a magazine with you assuming you would be doing some light reading, you’re out of luck. This is becuase the jury waiting room was much more forgiving than the proceedings in the courtroom. Once in the courtroom, you are participating in the process known as voir dire. While there, you sit and listen for hours, if not days, to the judge and/or the lawyers as they ask the same questions over and over again to each and every individual. Although most juries are composed of 12 people, somewhere close to 60 people are usually summoned into the courtroom. The type of trial will determine how thorough the court is in selecting jurors and therefore in how much time it takes for the whole process to happen.

If you are not selected to one case, you have to return to the jury waiting room until they pick you for another case. Since the government has a right to hold onto to you for two weeks, the person may not be chosen for a jury until their tenth day of service and at that time they may then have to sit on a jury for however long the trial lasts. Trials usually last for two weeks or less, but, with a $40.00 a day paycheck, there may be a struggle to make ends meet if you have a job that doesn’t compensate you for time missed as a juror. If you happen to be chosen for a jury rather quickly, you are fortunate. If you are chosen for a criminal case, you are looking at about two weeks of service. However, if you are chosen for a civil case, you may get lucky. Civil cases are sometimes settled after a jury is selected but before the trial begins. This means that everyone on the jury has fulfilled their duties as a juror and are free to go.

Once your jury service is completed, you can resume your normal activities like waking up to work at a job you don’t like to deal with jerks all day. The best part of jury duty happens about a month and a half after you have forgotten that you ever served. The government sends you a check in the mail which you can then use to support your drug habit or your addiction to cheetos. Yeah republicanism!

The following writeup is regarding English law only.

You are qualified for jury service if:

If you don't conform to all of the above, get your coat - you're not allowed to serve on a jury.

You are NOT qualified for jury service if:

Convictions

Mental disorders

The Judiciary and other people concerned with the Administration of Justice

You are not qualified for jury service if you are or have ever been

You are not qualified for jury service if you have been, at any time within the last 10 years

The Clergy

Gosh that was a long one. Are you any of the above? No? Well let's see if you have the right to be excused then...

You have the right to be excused if:

Parliament

You are

Medical and other Professions*

*Only if you are practicing the profession and you are registered, enrolled or certificated under the law which relates to your profession

The Forces

You are a full-time member of

and your commanding officer certifies to the jury summoning officer that your absence would be 'prejudicial to the efficiency of the service'

You may also ask to be excused if:

  • You are more than 65 years old
  • You have been on jury service during the past 2 years

(but these are at the discression of the summoning officer)

Some information about potential jurors

Approximately 150 summons are sent out to potential jurors for each case. They must then reply if they think they are exempt using the guidelines shown above. When these potential jurors arrive at the crown court, the court clerk separates them into groups of 15 and they are asked if there are any reasons why they should not be picked. If they have any previous convictions within the last 10 years and they do not reveal them, then they may be fined up to £5,000.

If no jurors turn up, which happened at Middlesex Crown Court on January 2nd 1992, then the Court Clerk can go out into the street and pick people at random. This process is called 'praying a talesman'.

The prosecution may challenge the selected jurors for any good reason before the trial, resulting in them being removed from the jury. This is called the right to stand by. The jurors are picked at random from a computer, if for any reason it is believed the choice was not at random either party may make a 'challenge to the array'.

Sources: My wonderful law teachers Caroline Buckley and Ruth Harrison, and my personal knowledge

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