In the United States, the legal system has been set up in such a way that when individuals or groups are accused of having committed a crime, those individuals or groups have a right to a trial. During that trial, they may make a plea to a jury of their peers. To ensure this right is available for all those tried in U.S. courts, all American citizens and individuals who permanently reside in the U.S, must occasionally serve as a jury member. When an individual is called for jury duty, that service is mandatory. While failure to report is not illegal, continued failure to report will result in strict penalties. Jurors may be called to serve on a trial or they may be dismissed without ever serving on a case. The selection process may differ by county or state, but is random in all locations to ensure an ongoing, well-rounded jury pool.
To Be Legally Qualified For Jury Service, One Must:
- be a United States citizen;
- be at least 18 years of age;
- be sufficiently proficient in the English language to adequately fill out the juror qualification form; and
- have primary residence, for one year, in the judicial district for which he/she is being asked to serve.
To Be Legally Qualified For Jury Service, One Must Not:
- have a disqualifying mental or physical condition;
- be subject to felony charges that are punishable by imprisonment for more than one year; and
- not ever have been convicted of a felony, unless civil rights have been legally restored.
Selection of Jurors: Voir Dire
Potential jurors are chosen from a jury pool that is created from a random selection of citizens’ names. These names are taken from lists of registered voters, or combined lists of voters and people who have received driver’s licenses, in that judicial district. Potential jurors complete questionnaires that help determine their qualifications to serve on a jury. The court randomly selects qualified individuals to be summoned to appear for jury duty. Random selection enables creation of a pool of jurors that are from a cross section of the community and include a balance of individuals without regard to race, gender, national origin, age, or political affiliation. A jury service summons does not guarantee that one will serve on a jury.
When a jury is needed for a trial, the group of qualified jurors is brought to a courtroom where the trial will take place so that the judge and the attorneys may ask the potential jurors questions to determine their suitability to serve on the jury. This process is known as voir dire and is meant to exclude individuals who may not be able to fairly decide the case.
Voir dire, for the most part, involves the questioning of prospective jurors by a judge and attorneys and involves determining if a juror is biased, is unable to fairly manage the issues being presented, or is unable to serve. If the juror has knowledge of the facts or individuals—parties, attorneys, witnesses—involved in the case; is in an occupation that may lead to potential juror bias; may be prejudiced against the issues or the people involved in the case; or may have similar experiences that are involved in the case, the juror will likely be dismissed. The attorneys may exclude a certain number of jurors without giving a reason and the judge may exclude a potential juror.
Employment During Jury Duty; Juror Pay
An employee may not be fired for attending jury duty; however, an employer is not mandated to pay an employee a salary during the term of that employee’s jury duty. Typically, jurors are paid $40 per day for their service on jury duty. This fee increases to $50 per day after a specific number of days and is dependent on the type of case being tried. This fee is paid regardless of the juror’s employer policies for how jurors are, or are not, paid during jury duty.
In the United States, government employees are placed in what is known as a paid status of leave for the time spent as a juror. This is sometimes known as court duty or court leave. In fact, some so-called “quasi-governmental” entities follow this practice.
To Be Exempt From Federal Jury Service
The following individuals are exempt from serving on federal juries, regardless of their desire to serve:
- Individuals who are active duty members of the armed forces
- Individuals who are members of professional fire and police departments
- Individuals who are “public officers” of federal, state, or local governments actively engaged full-time in the performance of public duties.
To Be Excused From Federal Jury Duty
There are 94 federal district courts and each maintains its own jury procedures and policies concerning acceptable excuses from jury service. Many of these courts offer excuses from service individually, to groups, and/or to occupational classes and may include:
- Individuals who are over the age of 70;
- Individuals who have served on jury federal jury duty in the past two years; or
- Individuals who serve as volunteer fire fighters, members of a rescue squad, or members of an ambulance crew.
The Jury Act allows courts to excuse a juror from service at the time of summons on the grounds of “undue hardship or extreme inconvenience.” This requires a letter from the juror requesting an excuse that is addressed to the clerk of the court and which includes an explanation of the hardship. Excuses for jurors are granted at the court’s discretion and cannot be reviewed or appealed to any entity.
Although jury duty is regarded as critical to the administration of justice and is considered a condition of U.S. citizenship, very specific groups may be excused from jury duty. In the U.S, jurors—typically from groups including the Amish or Old Order or Conservative Mennonites—who have conscientious objection to service are typically excused from service.