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The Importance of Jury Duty

Posted on Tuesday, July 24th, 2012 at 3:26 pm by Williams Hart   |  Updated: Monday, August 19th, 2019 at 1:25 pm    

Jury DutyJury duty is an obligation of citizenship. Just like paying your taxes or voting, jury duty is an essential part of maintaining the civic infrastructure most of us take for granted. We all have the right to be tried by our peers and the jury system is the best system yet devised; the one most likely to yield just, fair results. Jury service is not perfect but it is meaningful work and one of the best in the world. If jury duty was not mandatory there would be no jurors or at-most very few. It seems to the average American, nothing is seemingly more disliked than receiving a jury summons in the mail. The list seems endless of what people believe they are going to miss or the hardship they will suffer if they have to report to jury duty. As inconvenient as it may seem, jury duty is important for you and is in place to protect you from governmental abuse. It is a common misconception that jury duty is about deciding guilt. The jury system was first formed as a place for review of the law and how it is applied to everyone. There are circumstances in which the law is unjust and it is your duty as a juror to represent the opinion of the people. The next time you think about being inconvenienced by reporting to jury duty, remember that other than voting, acting as a juror is really your only other civic responsibility in this country. In other words, all the work done by the founding fathers, and all the actions of those who fought bravely or died on behalf of this country’s democratic institutions, resulted in a set of freedoms for citizens of this country not seen in other parts of the world. And, after all the sacrifice of those that came before you to ensure that each of us has the right to life, liberty and happiness, all your government really asks of you in return is to vote and show up for jury duty.

Thomas Jefferson once said “I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.” As a trial lawyer I stand by Thomas Jefferson’s quote. I can’t think of anything more important to my clients than the right to have their cases, whether personal injury or any kind of case, decided by a jury. And even though jury duty does take some amount of time away from what your daily routines would have been, almost every judge I have been in front of has been very sensitive to those facts. While there is no one standard rule as to how long jury service is, one thing is clear, if you sit on a civil or criminal jury, and reach a verdict, you are done.

How Jury Trials Can Differ

As the Texas Judicial Branch notes on its website, jury duty is both a civic duty and privilege, as the right to a trial by jury is guaranteed by both the Constitution of the United States and the Texas Constitution. When you have received a summons for jury duty, you may be able to participate in the jury selection process and could be asked to serve on a jury if you do not seek to be excused or exempted.

Juries can be used in both criminal cases and civil litigation. In a criminal case, a jury decides whether an alleged offender is guilty of a crime being prosecuted by the state, and the burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt. A civil case will usually focus on an injury to a plaintiff and a defendant’s negligence must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence.

Civil juries can also differ by subject matter, with personal injury and business litigation being two common examples of cases. Personal injury could include car accidents, slip and fall accidents, or wrongful death cases, while business litigation might involve contract disputes, securities litigation, or intellectual property disputes.

How Jury Duty Works

A person is eligible to serve on a jury in Texas if they:

  • Are at least 18 years of age
  • Are a citizen of the United States
  • Reside in the county of jury service
  • Are qualified to vote in the county of jury service (but do not have to be registered)
  • Can read and write
  • Are of sound mind and good moral character

A person cannot serve on a jury if they served as a juror for six days during the prior three months, have been convicted of a felony or any type of theft, or are under indictment or criminal charges for a felony or any type of theft. A person who is seeking an exemption from jury service must submit the exemption two weeks before the date listed on their summons.

A person can be excused from jury service if they:

  • Are older than 70 years of age
  • Have legal custody of a child less than 12 years of age who would be unsupervised
  • Are a high school student or college student attending classes
  • Are an officer or employee of the Texas Legislature or an agency in the legislative branch of government
  • Are the caretaker of a person unable to care for themselves
  • Have a physical or mental impairment that makes it impossible or difficult to serve on a jury
  • Cannot comprehend or communicate in English
  • Are active duty military deployed away from your home county
  • Were selected to serve on a jury in the previous two or three years

Jurors can also be excused for religious holidays. A person who fails to answer a jury summons or provides false information in a request for exemption or excusal can be fined up to $1,000. People selected for jury service who fail to attend court without a reasonable excuse can be fined up to $500.

How Jurors Are Selected

Jury selection usually takes one day or a part of a day to complete. Groups of 50 to 60 prospective jurors are typically assembled in courtrooms with judges, lawyers, and the parties involved in cases.

The attorneys involved will be able to conduct voir dire, the French phrase for “to speak the truth” that is a process of judges and lawyers asking jurors questions determine their suitability for jury service. Both attorneys involved will have the opportunity to present any challenges to individual jurors and the court will ultimately select a jury with one to four alternates.

Voir dire could last a couple of hours, and jurors are usually given an overview of a case by a judge before they are questioned by lawyers. All prospective jurors will be given an oath in which they swear or affirm to tell the truth when answering questions about their qualifications as jurors.

A summons typically has instructions on how to respond, and some summons may allow people to respond online. The jurors will usually select a foreperson before jury deliberations begin.

How Long Can Trials Last?

The length of a civil trial can vary widely depending on the type of case involved and other specific factors. For example, a single party action will likely be resolved much sooner than a mass tort.

A single party will only be one case involving a plaintiff and the named defendants, but mass tort cases could involve jurors hearing from multiple plaintiffs. A civil trial typically lasts only a matter of days but some can take several weeks and a few could even take multiple months to resolve.

Texas has six different kinds of trial courts: Justice of the Peace (JP) Courts, Municipal Courts, Statutory Probate Courts, Constitutional County Courts, Statutory County Courts, and District Courts.

Why a Person Should Embrace Jury Duty

Having the opportunity to have cases heard by a jury of your peers is a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy, and you should view your jury summons as a chance to participate in this essential element. The county may compensate you, no less than $40 per day, for your jury service. An employer does not have to pay you for time away from work for jury service but they also cannot fire you for serving on a jury.

Jury service is considered to be one of the highest duties of citizenship. The right to a trial by jury is the only right contained in both the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Your participation in a jury also helps ensure the checks and balances critical to our government. Jurors allow for peaceful resolutions to contested disputes and help participate in the act of governing and enforcement of certain laws.

The opportunity to serve as a juror is a chance that any citizen should relish because it allows them the opportunity to hear all of the facts in a specific case and render a judgment to help ensure that justice is achieved.

So, the next time you get that jury summons, sure it may be an inconvenience, but at the end of the process, you, like so many before you, will have made a huge commitment to our democratic system of government, you will have made a huge difference in resolving a controversy. That small burden is a small price to pay for the privileges and protections of our government. With rights, come responsibilities. Jurors owe it to their fellow citizens to perform this service seriously; justice depends all on the quality of jurors who serve. The survival of your own right to trial by jury depends on the willingness of all to serve, so be part of the system and make a difference.

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