Attorney Tara Knight was recently featured on WTNH’s “Ask the Lawyer” segment. The topic? Jury duty.
Read Attorney Knight’s answers to the most frequently asked questions about jury duty below and watch her WTNH segment here.
As a lawyer, many people will ask me half-kiddingly, “How do I get out of jury duty?” My answer? You shouldn’t try. Although a jury service summons is often accompanied by a groan from the recipient, it can be a very rewarding experience. You get a firsthand look at the inner workings of the system and have the potential of becoming a significant player in the justice system. Although all of us feel crunched for time and frequently overwhelmed with our work, family, and other responsibilities, most jurors find the experience very interesting and most are glad they were a part of it—knowing that their participation is vital for our system of justice to work for all of us.
In the state system, you can postpone your service one time. After that, it is your duty and it is required by law that you attend. If there is something extraordinary—and I mean extraordinary—you can call the jury administrator at the court and seek to be excused. A feeble excuse will not cut it. However, if you actually get selected to serve on a jury and it will be more than a day, the judge will excuse you if jury duty will cause an undue hardship to you. Examples of “undue hardship” include child care, prepaid vacation, caring for a family member, and financial reasons.
TIP: Your employer must pay for the first 5 days of your jury service if you are selected. After that, the state pays $50 per day.
There is a difference between federal and state jury service and my remarks are limited to state service because that is far more common. You will be pleased to see how organized the process is and how appreciated you are for fulfilling your duties. You will be given a lot of general information about your duties and will be personally addressed by a superior court judge who will explain the process, some legal concepts, and the difference between being selected for a civil case—like a car accident—and a criminal case—like a murder.
Unfortunately, most people don’t get the opportunity to serve on an actual jury. That’s because lawyers in both types of cases are trying to work out the case instead of going to trial. Typically your jury service will consist of a lot of waiting around and it can be pretty boring after the initial orientation. So make sure you bring lots of reading material. You can also bring a computer and your cell phone. If a case cannot be resolved, potential jurors will be selected as part of a panel to actually go to a courtroom and be questioned by the judge and lawyers in a process known as voir dire. At that time, the judge will give you a brief introduction of the case and its lawyers. She will also tell you how long the particular case is expected to last. If the length of the case poses a hardship to you, this is the time to tell the judge about your particular hardship.
The purpose of voir dire is to ensure that both sides in a case have a neutral and fair jury. So each lawyer will question you about your particular beliefs and opinions. The voir dire is not a quiz or a test, so you need to remember that. Most potential jurors are a little nervous during this process. You will be questioned in the courtroom and will be seated in the witness box. The other jurors will not be present. The lawyers will try to uncover whether or not you have particular opinions or life experiences that might make you less than objective and fair in the particular case being tried.
For example, if it is a criminal matter and you or a family member have been victimized in the past, you might have a hard time being fair to the defendant. Or, if you have been in a car accident and were injured, you might have trouble being objective to the defense in a civil accident case. No answer is wrong. The lawyers and judge just want to make sure that a juror seated on a particular case has a completely open mind and is not prejudiced or biased for or against the defendant, plaintiff, or state in any given case.