Certainly, if you try to get out of jury duty, you’re not being a good juror. So many people attempt to shirk their service, but being a juror is one of the most important responsibilities we have as American citizens. Juries are essential for our court systems to run effectively and fairly. Serving as a juror can be a very worthwhile, if not interesting experience.
If you decide you’re going to do your civic responsibility and show up for jury duty, do you even know what it means to be a good juror? If you are chosen to sit on a case, here are some things to keep in mind:
Be honest during Voir Dire (jury selection): You will be asked a series of questions by the attorneys and sometimes the judge. Make sure to answer each question honestly and disclose full answers to these questions. If you do not, and the truth is revealed later, it could cause a mistrial or appeal when the case has concluded. There may be times when answers to questions are very personal or sensitive. You have the right to discuss the issue in private instead of in front of the jury pool. Give the answers you truly believe, not what you think lawyers and judges want to hear.
Be a good listener: Testimony might be boring. It might take days to get through it all; you may find yourself wanting to daydream. Don’t let that happen. In the time that your serve on a jury, it is your job to listen and evaluate the truth. Get a good night’s sleep in order to stay attentive.
Take good notes: If you’re allowed to take notes, do so. If you have questions that pop up while listening to testimony, write them down so you remember to ask them later. You don’t have to worry about bringing your own writing implements; the courts normally will have paper and pens there for you.
Ask questions if you do not understand something: Sometimes lawyers get caught up in their case and may forget they are talking to lay people. If you don’t understand or the attorneys don’t explain the legal concepts clearly, ask. It’s better to have testimony or evidence clarified than to do your own guesswork.
Keep an open mind during deliberations: Listen to what the other jurors have to say with an open mind, and then share your opinion before coming to your conclusion. The others may have a point or idea you hadn’t thought about before.
Understand how to weigh witness credibility: Keep in mind that not everyone that makes poor eye contact is automatically unreliable and not every expert is automatically credible. Be sure to consider things like body language, consistency of testimony to other evidence, incentive to testify, and number of times they’ve testified before, when judging credibility.
Pay attention to and heed the judge’s instructions: Each case has a certain set of rules that jurors must apply to the evidence they have heard. You must make your deliberations based on the instructions the judge reads to you.
Respect fellow jurors and encourage others to do the same: When a group of strangers from all walks of life are thrust together, personalities may collide. If people become rude or are dismissive to others during deliberations, remind everyone that it is a group decision and everyone needs to be heard and to keep things civil. When jurors treat each other with equality and respect, they are more likely to reach informed, reasoned verdicts.
Draw out jurors who don’t speak up: If a fellow juror hasn’t said a word through deliberations, you might want to ask them their opinions on the case. They may want to say something, but may be too shy to speak up without being prompted or may feel intimidated by more vocal members.
If you are chosen to be the foreman, you have a few more responsibilities.
- Ensure all members of the jury are present in the jury room before discussion begins.
- Lead the discussions in deliberations.
- Keep discussions orderly and open so everyone’s voices and opinions are heard.
- Send messages to the judge which would be necessary when the jury has questions, needs clarification on instruction or other guidance, or when the verdict is reached.
- Ask for recorded testimony to be read back to the jury. This would occur if the jury disagrees on testimony and can no longer deliberate. This request would bring the jury, parties, attorneys and judge back to the courtroom, so should only be made when absolutely necessary.
- Have jury members vote on a verdict.
- Count the votes to ensure all jurors have voted.
- Fill out and sign the jury verdict form on behalf of the jury and announce to the bailiff that you are ready to announce the verdict.
- Read the verdict aloud to the court when requested by the judge.
Even though the experience is often disparaged, jury service is a privilege, and it’s our responsibility to serve as jurors. It is how we, the people of the United States of America, ensure a fair trial for all and see that justice is done. Our system won’t work without our occasional contribution.
Now that you know what’s expected of you and what you can expect, perhaps next time you get a summons in the mail you won’t automatically start thinking of reasons you can’t serve.