When I was kicking around blog topics with different people, I was provided with several great topics. The one which gets today’s effort is jury duty. Why you ask, did jury duty rise to the top of all the other topics? That is easy. A Judge suggested I should write about jury duty. Judge wins. Jury duty is it.
Jury duty is really an honor and privilege that we have. Yet it is constantly being attacked. You have no doubt heard the arguments about how a “crazy jury” awarded x amount of money on some case. But never do you hear from the actual jurors who heard the evidence and came up with their verdict. I am a firm believer in the jury system and have found they usually end up doing the right thing. Understand this is from one of those rare lawyers who has actually won and (gasp!!) lost cases at trial. Based upon the ads I see and talk around the Courthouse, I may be one of only a handful of lawyers in the Fort Bend, Brazoria, Harris, Galveston, Matagorda, Waller, (or for that matter all of Texas and the U.S.) to have ever lost a case. It is also strange that some people believe that juries should be done away with completely in personal injury cases where a person’s livelihood is on the line, but firmly believe in juries deciding whether a person should spend the rest of their lives in jail or be executed. Maybe it’s just me but I believe a jury panel which could decide if I live or die is capable of deciding if the person that hurt me in a wreck should pay for my damages.
So—let’s talk about jury duty.
Why did I get this notice (summons) and what am I supposed (have) to do?
State law sets the process for selecting potential jurors. In Texas, each county gets a list from the State of people who are registered to vote, have a Texas driver’s license or a Texas identification card. You do not need any special skills or legal knowledge. People are then chosen randomly from that list. You may or may not get additional information with the summons such as a questionnaire requesting some basic information to fill out and bring with you or mail back ahead of time. Some counties have I-Jury Online Impaneling (it is the selection process – not being made part of a wall) and if your county has that you can respond on line and potentially save yourself a trip to the Courthouse.
What if I just don’t answer summons?
Bad idea. You can be subject to a contempt action that can result in a fine of not less than $100.00 or more than $1,000.00. (Texas Gov’t Code – 62.0141)
Ok. Got the summons and I will show up. Does that mean I will be on a jury?
No. There are still several things which have to be determined to see if you are qualified to serve as a juror. The first step outlined above gets you in the selection hopper; the following are REQUIRED to qualify you as a juror.
1. Must be at least 18 years of age;
2. Be a citizen of Texas and of the County in which you are to serve as a juror;
3. Must be qualified to vote in County in which you are to serve as a juror – do not need to be registered, just qualified (you could legally vote if you wanted);
4. Be of sound mind and good moral character;
5. Be able to read and write;
6. Not have served as a juror for six days during the preceding 3 months in County Court or during the preceding 6 months in District Court;
7. Not have been convicted of, be under indictment or other legal accusation for, misdemeanor theft or a felony.
If you meet all the above requirements, you are qualified to serve as a juror, but there are some exemptions which you may claim. You may choose to serve even if any of the following apply, but you are not required to:
1. Over the age of 70;
2. Have legal custody of a child younger than 10 and serving on the jury would leave the child without adequate supervision;
3. Are a student at a public or private secondary school;
4. Are enrolled and in actual attendance at an institution of higher learning;
5. Are an officer or an employee of the senate, house of representatives, or any department, commission, board, office or other agency in the legislative branch of government;
6. Have served as a petit juror in the county during the 24 month period preceding the date you are required to appear for this summons. (Only if county has at least a population of 200,000)
7. Are the primary caretaker of a person who is an invalid and unable to care for himself (does not apply to healthcare workers); or
8. Have been summoned for service in a county with a population of at least 250,000 and you have served as a petit juror in the county during the 3 year period preceding the date you are to appear for jury service.
Jury Selection:
If you made it through the qualification process and have no exemptions (or have chosen not to take them) that still does not mean you will actually serve on a jury, but you will be able to be on a jury panel from which the actual jury will be selected. The selection process is usually a day or less, but in some rare cases can take several days. You and your fellow panel members will be taken to a courtroom where the judge, lawyers and parties will be able to ask questions to determine if you are the proper person to serve as a juror in that particular case.
Juror Oath:
At some point in the process all prospective jurors are given an oath in which they swear or affirm to tell the truth when answering questions. If there is a question which you would be embarrassed to answer or is extremely private, you can ask to go up the judge to give your answer, but you need to answer it truthfully. I usually ask jurors if they would want someone like them being on a jury which was judging a case where they were the party. Not answering questions truthfully and completely generally can not only be grounds for contempt, but may actually get you on the jury. I realize that some people try to get out of jury duty by lying. You don’t have to lie. Tell them the Judge and lawyers the truth and you will probably scare them enough to not select you.
Make it through the process and are selected to be on the actual jury. Don’t be upset. You should be proud that you were one of only a handful of citizens who were chosen out of the entire county to be able to decide a case which will impact the lives of all those involved. Thank you for taking your responsibility and duty seriously.