Selecting Juries for Trial

Is it possible that I might report for jury service but not sit on a jury?

Yes. The parties involved in a case generally seek to settle their differences and avoid the expense and time of a trial. Sometimes the case is settled just a few moments before the trial begins. So even though several trials are scheduled for a certain day, the court does not know until that morning how many will actually go to trial. But your time spent waiting is not wasted -- your very presence in the court encourages settlement.

How are jurors chosen to sit on a jury in a civil case?

When a trial is ready to begin, the bailiff calls potential jurors into the courtroom. If damages of less than $15,000 are claimed in the case, 11 jurors will be called. If damages of more than $15,000 are claimed, 13 jurors will be called. The clerk or bailiff asks potential jurors to stand, hold up their right hand, and swear or affirm that they will truthfully answer the questions about to be asked of them. The judge will then tell you the names of the parties and their attorneys and briefly explain the nature of the case. The judge will ask if you are related to anyone involved in the case, have any financial or other interest in the outcome of the case, have formed or expressed an opinion or have any personal bias or prejudice that might affect how you decide the case. If you do not think you can make a fair and impartial decision for any reason, you should tell the judge at this time.

The attorneys for each side might also ask you some questions. If the judge concludes that you may not be able to make a fair decision, you will be asked to step down, and another prospective juror will be brought in to replace you. After the judge decides that all potential jurors are qualified to fairly and impartially hear the case, the clerk will compile a list of jurors and give it to the attorneys. Each side will remove three names from the list. They do not have to give a reason for removing these names. If the amount claimed is under $15,000, the final jury will have five (5) members. If the claim is more than $15,000, the jury will have seven (7) members. The remaining jurors then swear or affirm that they will hear the case and give a verdict they believe to be true. The trial is ready to begin.

Why are some jurors removed from the list?

Allowing both sides to participate in selecting the jury gives the parties the opportunity to feel that the jury will be fair and impartial when it decides the case. Being excused from a jury in no way reflects on your character or your competence as a juror, so you should not feel offended or embarrassed if your name is removed.

How are juries chosen in a criminal case?

The procedure for criminal cases is very similar to the procedure for civil cases. However, 20 prospective jurors are called for a felony trial, and the final jury will have 12 members. For a misdemeanor case, the final jury will have seven members. (The difference between felony and a misdemeanor case is described in the next section.)

What are alternate jurors?

Sometimes, when the judge believes that a case is likely to last more than a day or two, additional jurors will be chosen from those summoned for jury duty, questioned and challenged like other prospective jurors. The additional jurors are chosen to avoid having to retry the case should one or more jurors be excused from the jury during the trial for an emergency (such as illness), leaving too few jurors to decide the case. Throughout the trial, all jurors will sit together, paying careful attention to all the evidence. After closing argument and before the jury retires to the jury room to decide the case, the judge will excuse from further jury duty enough jurors to reduce the number of jurors to the statutory number needed to decide the case.

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