Jury Duty

The duties of a juror are as important as the duties of a judge. Jurors are the sole judges of the credibility of witnesses and are the ultimate judges of the facts.

In a jury trial, one side of a dispute presents evidence refuting the claims of the other side. It is the jury's job to judge the evidence, follow the judge's instructions on the law, and reach a verdict.

Jury Selection

A group of people called to court to serve as jurors is called a "master panel." The jury commissioner selects a jury randomly from this group and sends them to the courtroom. Jurors are randomly called to take seats in the jury box and must swear to answer truthfully all questions about their qualifications as jurors. The judge usually begins the questioning. After that, in civil cases, the attorneys in the case may ask questions. In criminal cases, however, the judge decides whether attorneys may ask questions. This questioning process is called "voir dire," which means "to speak the truth."

Among the many reasons a person on the panel might not be selected as a juror are that he or she has personal knowledge of or prejudice about the case to be tried, a close relationship to the litigant, or a business relationship with one of the lawyers.

After the questioning is over, each side may excuse a certain number of prospective jurors for a specific reason, such as personal knowledge of the defendant, lawyer, or someone else involved in the case. Lawyers may also use a limited number of "peremptory challenges" to disqualify prospective jurors without stating a cause or reason. This number varies with the type and nature of the case.

Two Kinds of Cases

Juries decide two kinds of cases-civil and criminal. In most civil and criminal trials, everyone is entitled to a jury of 12 impartial people who will try the case on the law as explained by the judge and evidence admitted at the trial. (In some cases, juries can be fewer than 12 people, with the consent of both sides.)

Civil cases

Civil cases usually involve a claim for money. Common types of civil cases include landlord/tenant disputes, auto and other accidents, customer disputes with stores, and contract disputes. In a civil case, the party who brings the action (plaintiff) must prove all the elements of his or her case by presenting evidence that is more convincing to the judge or jury than the evidence of the opposing party (defendant or respondent).

Criminal cases

In a criminal case, a defendant is charged with a public offense. In the name of the people of California, the state makes the charge against the person accused of committing the crime because the crime is considered an act against society. The prosecuting attorney presents evidence to support the charge against the accused person (defendant) on behalf of the state (plaintiff). The prosecution must prove to the jury that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Jurors must reach a unanimous verdict in criminal cases, but in civil cases a verdict by three-quarters of the jury is sufficient.

State and local laws define crimes and specify punishment.

What Does A Jury Do?

A jury usually consists of 12 people who are selected to hear the evidence in a civil or criminal trial. In most cases, at least one alternate juror is selected, to replace any juror who might be unable to continue serving on a case during the course of trial. During the trial, jurors will hear and see the evidence presented by the attorneys on behalf of their clients (the parties.) After all of the evidence is presented, the jurors must try to decide the result of a case: in a criminal trial, whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty; or in a civil trial, whether the defendant is responsible for injury to the plaintiff and the amount of any damages. In a criminal trial, all 12 members of the jury must find the defendant guilty or not guilty. In a civil trial, at least 9 of the 12 members of the jury must decide if the defendant is responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries and damages.

To serve as a juror in the State of California, a person must be:

• A citizen of the United States
• At least 18 years of age
• Able to read and understand English
• A resident of the county in which he or she is being called to serve as a juror
• Not convicted of a felony

To be summoned to serve as a juror, citizens are randomly selected from either the California Department of Motor Vehicles driver’s license list or the Orange County Registrar of Voters list.

What Do Jurors Do When They Deliberate?

After jurors hear all of the evidence in a trial, they must decide whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty, or whether the defendant is responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries and damages. While they are trying to make those decisions, they are deliberating.

Before the jurors start deliberating, the attorneys in a case will talk to them. The speeches the attorneys make to the jurors are called the closing arguments. After the closing arguments, the judge will instruct the jurors on the laws that apply to the case they have just heard. The judge will then send the jurors into the jury room to deliberate.

During deliberations, the jurors can consider only the evidence that was presented during the trial. When the jury has made its decision, they are said to have reached a verdict. Then the judge, jury and parties all return to the courtroom where the verdict is read by the courtroom clerk in open court.

To Qualify For Jury Duty

. . . a person must be a U.S. citizen at least 18 years old and physically able to serve, and must possess ordinary intelligence and sufficient knowledge of the English language.

People may not serve if they have been convicted of wrongdoing in office or any felony or other high crime. In certain cases, other rules may be applicable.

Prospective jurors' names are obtained randomly from voter registration lists and Department of Motor Vehicles records. Persons on the jury list are notified to appear in court when they are needed.

Pay for jury services varies from county to county. The State of California pays $15 per day after the first day of service. Some counties supplement this amount, and the Judicial Council of California is advocating that the Legislature increase the daily rate.

The Jury System – An Interesting Beginning

Before juries: justice was centered on divine intervention and depended on who was wielding the sword. Crimes and disputes were resolved by: Hue and Cry; Trial by ordeal; Trial by compurgation

Trial by ordeal – is an ancient legal custom whereby an accused person was required to perform a test, the outcome of which decided the person’s guilt or innocence. By an ordeal, appeal was made to divine authority to decide the guilt or innocence of one accused of a crime or to choose between disputants. In England it was a regular form of trial and persisted until trial by jury became common. Forms of the ordeal varied with the locality and with the nature of the crime. The ordeal by fire—walking through fire or putting the hand into a flame—was common, and there were other fiery ordeals, such as walking on hot plowshares or plunging the hand into molten metal. Usually it was believed that if the accused were innocent God would spare him. Commonly there was a lapse of several days before the injuries were inspected; then someone considered a competent judge decided from the severity of the injuries as to innocence or guilt. One form of ordeal, the trial by water, was that used to determine whether or not an accused woman was a witch. The woman was bound and cast into water that had been blessed. If the water rejected her—i.e., if she floated—she was considered guilty. If the water received her, she was considered innocents.

The concept of jury came into existence as an integral part of the English justice system during King Henry II’s reign in the 12th Century. King Henry II set a very important idea in motion: for every wrong there should be a remedy and the jury was the source to find it. Juries began having independent fact-finding powers and were final determiners of the verdict.

In the 17th century, William Penn, who later founded Pennsylvania, was preaching on a London street when he was arrested and tried for disturbing the peace. When the jury refused to find him guilty, they were thrown into prison. Judges reversed the case, and from that day on, no authority could punish a jury for its decision.

This English legal tradition came to America with the first settlers. But in America, it developed a character of its own, much to the annoyance of the British rulers. In 1735, John Peter Zenger was tried in the colony of New York for publishing newspaper articles denouncing the corruption of the local British Governor. The Governor packed the jury with cronies and demanded they find Zenger guilty. The jury refused and asserted once again jury independence.

Who May Serve?

Jury service has not always been a universal right. At the time of the American Revolution, the colonies restricted jury duty to white male property holders. No African Americans served on any trial jury in the United States, North or South, until 1860 during a criminal trial in Worcester, MA..

It took another 80 years before women were allowed to serve, after winning the right to vote in 1920 with the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

Today, every U.S citizen over 18 years of age is eligible to serve, rich or poor, of any religious or racial background. In California, Code of Civil Procedure, section 203(a) defines the qualifications of prospective trial juror