Many people call me to seek advice about what to do if they are called for jury duty. Likewise, I thought I would write a series regarding jury duty, starting from receipt of the notification all the way through the trial and verdict. Parts I-III will deal primarily with the jury selection process, while part IV will discuss the trial and jury deliberations. Since I practice in the area of civil litigation, I will focus on that context more than the criminal context. Nevertheless, the basics of jury duty are very similar for both civil and criminal cases.
The United States Constitution guarantees each party to a civil lawsuit the right to a trial by jury in suits where the amount in controversy exceeds $20. Likewise, it is only a matter of time that every registered voter, or person who possesses a driver’s license, will be called for jury duty. In civil cases, a party must request a jury trial. Either the plaintiff or the defendant can request a jury trial. However, do not assume that the plaintiff requested the jury trial just because the plaintiff filed the lawsuit. Usually, the party who believes that they will benefit from a jury trial makes the request. For instance, in the Dallas / Fort Worth area, the defendant almost always requests a jury trial in personal injury cases because jurors tend to be more conservative in favor of the defendant.
Notifications for jury duty are normally sent by mail. The notification will state that you must report for jury duty on a certain date, and at a certain time and place. Your notification will also provide some information about how you may be exempt from jury duty, such as having to care for a young child, financial hardship, illness, etc. If you do not qualify for an exemption, you must report as directed. Failure to report for jury duty are grounds for criminal charges and a warrant can be issued for your arrest.
When you report for jury duty, you will gather with other potential jurors in what is commonly called the “central jury room.” Once you arrive in the central jury room, you will be given a badge designating you as a juror and asked to sit through a very short orientation. You will also be given a form asking you to provide basic information about yourself, such as your age, occupation, religious affiliation, and previous jury service. You may also be asked to provide the same information about your spouse.
Once you complete and turn in your information form, your name will be called out with other potential jurors and assigned to a particular courtroom. There, your group will probably be met by the bailiff and asked to sit in the hall and wait to be called into the courtroom. During this time, your information forms are sent up to the courtroom, shuffled, and assigned a number (e.g. “1-40”). The bailiff will then come out to the hall with the numbered list of jurors. Each juror will then be arranged in numbered order and seated in the courtroom in that order.
Now the jury selection process is about to begin.