|Part of our civic duty as United States and Scott County citizens is to serve on a jury of one’s peers if called to do so. In the past few months there have been several Scott County jury trials that have been receiving coverage in the local city papers, paying special attention to the defendant and the trial’s outcome. While the defendant stands in the spotlight, there are several other actors that are equally important; however, little light is shed on their important role. It’s pretty clear what the role of the Judge is but what does the average juror do- except utter the last few words on the latest Law and Order episode? Here is some information to help you understand what you may have to do if you receive the “summons to jury duty” in the mail.
How do they select jurors?
The State of Minnesota sends each county an annual list of potential jurors pulled from the Driver and Vehicle Services database and the voter registration rolls based on zip codes. Using this list, the county court administration creates pools of potential jurors, drawing approximately 180 people for each jury term. After rescheduling, people with valid excuses and those with Scott County zip codes but are not Scott County residents are removed, they are left with approximately 100-120 jurors.
For a county of our size, the 803 Rules Committee on Juries for the State of Minnesota restricts the amount of days that an individual can be called for jury duty to ten days per month or until the end of their assigned case. This works well as we have only 9 days of potentially scheduled jury trials. Several trials are scheduled on each day with the assumption that 99 percent of all jury trials are settled prior to trial.
Potential jurors are always concerned with how much time serving jury duty will take out of their busy schedules. The average trial lasts one to three days. That includes deliberations and you are compensated, however meagerly ($20 per day) for your time. Seldom does a trial last longer than this time frame or involve sequestration. The state will reimburse mileage at 26 cents per mile and will pay for childcare for children not normally in daycare ($50 per day for licensed daycare and $5 per hour up to $40 dollars per day for unlicensed care- per family.)
Who can be a juror?
Anyone who is a U.S. citizen, and is at least 18 years old can be called for jury duty.
Who cannot be a juror?
Someone who is on felony probation, or whose civil rights have not been restored after a felony conviction, and someone who does not reside in that county, is not a U.S. citizen, or is below the age if 18, cannot be a juror.
Some factors allowing a person to be excused from jury duty include persons who:
- Have a valid medical condition with a doctor’s note,
- Are a sitting Judge,
- Are a Federal Congressman or Senator,
- Are over the age of 70 and does not want to serve,
- Are on active military duty,
- Have served on jury duty in the past two years and does not want to again
When you receive a jury summons, you’re instructed to call into a pre-recorded line Monday through Thursday to see if you are needed to come in for service.
If you are instructed to come in, you will go through a short orientation session and be sent to one of the courtrooms for jury selection. A random group of jurors will be chosen, and will be seated in the jury box and asked questions by the judge, prosecutor/plaintiff, and defense/respondent to determine the appropriateness for that particular case. This goes on until a jury is picked and the trial is ready to proceed.
If you are not chosen for that particular trial, it doesn’t mean you are unqualified or that there is something wrong with you, your views, or your life experiences. Rather it means you may not be the best person to sit on that specific jury and there may be other juries that would be more appropriate on which to sit.
You are now a juror
During the trial, you will be asked to listen to all of the testimony and evidence and not make a decision until the conclusion of the case. You will not be able to talk to anyone about the case, not even your fellow jurors or family members.
Once the trial has concluded, you and your fellow jurors will go into a jury deliberation room where you will elect a foreperson and finally have the opportunity to discuss what you have heard and look over any evidence that was introduced. A bailiff will assist you in anything that you may need during your deliberations and be your lifeline to the outside world. You can have no contact with anyone except fellow jurors during this time in case someone tries to influence your decision or find out which way the jury is leaning.
Once you have reached a verdict, it will be read in open court by the court clerk and entered as part of the official record. Your duty is now complete and you can talk to anyone you want to about the case. Frequently, the judge and the court staff are curious how the jury came to its verdict and they will often ask interested jurors about their experience.
Almost all jurors express their amazement as to how trials actually work in the real world and are pleased they got to be involved- even the ones who initially expressed dismay at having to serve. It is so rare that somebody actually becomes involved with a jury trial that this is their one chance to see the system hard at work.