Seven Things You Always Wanted
to Know About Jury Duty
but were Afraid to Ask...!
MUST I SHOW UP WHEN SUMMONED FOR JURY DUTY?
Only if you wish to remain a law-abiding citizen, of course. In most parts of
the country, those who fail to appear are rarely prosecuted, but our justice
system and our liberty depend upon people taking jury service seriously--
which begins with being there when needed.
MUST I ANSWER ALL THE QUESTIONS THEY ASK ME?
No. Being asked to answer questions, whether written or oral, regarding
eligibility for jury service need not compromise your privacy or embarrass
you. You can decide how much you want to divulge about yourself, and no
one can punish you for refusing to answer anyone's question or questions,
any more than you can be punished for your verdict. True, the lawyers or
judge may ask you tough questions, but you may exercise your right to
privacy when answering.
IF I DISAGREE WITH THE LAW, MUST I USE IT ANYWAY?
No. And there is no requirement that you agree with the law, though you are
unlikely to be empaneled if you admit disagreement with it. If you are asked
whether you agree with the law (or will swear to apply it as given) and you
know that you don't (or won't) then you have a moral choice to make--to
abandon a defendant who may need your point of view in the jury, or to tell
IF ALL THE JURORS BUT ME AGREE, SHOULD I GIVE IN?
Not unless you actually have a change of mind or heart. The whole idea of
requiring a unanimous verdict either to acquit or convict someone is to give
special weight to individual perception and conscience. There is nothing
wrong with a "hung" jury. Sometimes, a series of hung juries involving a
certain law can send a message to the lawmakers that the law needs work.
AM I ABLE TO ASK QUESTIONS AS A TRIAL JUROR?
Request the judge ahead of time to define what to do if you want a witness
to answer a question that the attorneys have not asked. There should be an
orderly procedure for this, and for asking the judge any questions you may
have about the law both during the trial and while you're deliberating.
WHAT ABOUT TAKING NOTES OR TAPING THE TRIAL?
Judges may allow note taking, but taping is often prohibited by law. Ask.
WILL I EVER HAVE TO REVEAL HOW I VOTED OR WHY?
Never. But you may be asked, and there is no reason you should not explain
what happened, if you wish. Other jurors are likely to do the same, especially
if interviewed by the media. And your commentary may be important--to the
public, to the defendant, or to the police, prosecutors, and legislators.
REMEMBER, as jurors your job is justice, and the hard part is to keep your eye
on that ball. If it ever seems you're being told how to think, recall that the
jury is the most powerful participant in the trial: no one can punish jurors for
their decision, nor overturn a jury acquittal, nor make a juror account for his
or her decision. Besides, the jury is supposed to be an independent force in
the courtroom--the direct voice of the community, not controlled by politics
or special interests or anything besides common sense and conscience.
YOU CAN ONLY USE YOUR POWER IF YOU KNOW ABOUT IT, THOUGH.
We just told you the basics. Ready for more? Contact "FIJA", the Fully
Informed Jury Association, Box 59, Helmville, MT 59843; (406) 793-5550.
Call the FIJA office to talk with Don Doig or Larry Dodge about joining FIJA,
contributing, or getting actively involved educating all Americans in their
powers, rights, and responsibilities as trial jurors.
Or, just call our 800 line for more information, via taped message, plus an
opportunity to tell us where to send you a free Jury Power Information Kit.
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