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  • Jury Service Guide

  • Jury Service Guide

    A Guide to Your Jury Service


    The importance of the juror’s role in the federal judicial system cannot be overstated. Thomas Jefferson described trial by jury as "the only anchor, ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of (its) constitution."

    The protection of our rights and liberties is largely achieved through the teamwork of judge and jury. The judge determines the law to be applied in the case, while the jury decides the facts. Jurors must be people possessed of sound judgment, absolute honesty, fairness, and commitment.

    Our country has two basic court systems. One consists of the courts of each of the individual 50 states and the District of Columbia. The other -- and the one in which you have been called to serve -- consists of the courts of the federal government. These courts were created by Article III of the United States Constitution, which authorizes the creation of "such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish." The first of these lower federal courts was established by Congress in 1789 -- one trial court for each of the 13 original states. Today, the United States is divided into 94 federal court districts.

    The types of cases which can be brought in this court have been established by the United States Congress in accordance with the United States Constitution. They are divided into two general categories: criminal cases and civil cases.

    In criminal cases, the United States, acting through the Grand Jury and represented by the United States Attorney, brings charges against individuals or organizations accused of violations of federal criminal laws. Typical criminal charges in a federal court include violations of the federal income tax and narcotics laws, mail theft, bank robbery, or embezzlement and counterfeiting. Civil cases are suits in which persons or business entities who disagree over their private rights and duties ask the court to settle their disputes. Typical examples of civil cases include claims of personal injury, employment discrimination or broken contracts. These cases may involve individuals, corporations, or governmental agencies or organizations.

    The following events occur in all jury trials, whether the case is a criminal or civil matter:


    The first step in a jury trial is the summoning of a panel of prospective jurors. They are called into the courtroom by the judge’s clerk. From this panel, a jury will be selected to try the case. In addition to the jury, alternate jurors may be chosen in case a juror becomes ill or suffers an emergency during the trial which prevents him or her from completing service as a juror.

    The panel members are placed under oath to answer questions about their qualifications to sit as jurors in the case. This questioning process is called voir dire, and consists of questioning by the judge; it may also include questions by the lawyers. A deliberately untruthful answer by a member of the jury panel to any question could result in serious punishment.

    The judge usually begins with a short statement explaining the case in order to inform the jurors of the nature of the case and to introduce the parties and their lawyers.

    The jurors are then questioned to determine whether they have any personal interest in the case or know of any reason they cannot render an impartial verdict. The court also inquires whether any member of the panel is related to or is personally acquainted with the parties, their lawyers, or the witnesses who will appear during trial. Other questions will help the court determine whether any panel members have a strongly held belief or feeling that might prevent them from rendering a verdict based on the evidence and law of the case about to be tried.

    Parties on either side are entitled to ask that members of the panel be excused or exempted from service on a particular jury. These requests are called challenges. A person may be challenged for cause if the questioning has disclosed that he or she might be prejudiced for or against a particular party in the case. The judge will excuse an individual from the panel if the cause raised by the challenge is sufficient.

    The parties also have a right to a certain number of challenges for which no cause need be stated. These are called peremptory challenges. Each side is usually allotted a predetermined number of peremptory challenges. A peremptory challenge is a legal right long recognized by the law as a means of giving both sides some choice in the selection of the jury. Jurors should understand that being eliminated from the jury panel through a peremptory challenge is no reflection upon their ability or integrity.


    After voir dire is completed, the jurors are selected and placed under oath to try the case well and faithfully in accordance with the law and evidence in the case. The judge or the deputy clerk assisting the judge will ask the jurors to stand, hold up their right hands, and take their oath as jurors.


    After the jury is sworn, the trial proceeds. In civil cases, the following eight states of trial ordinarily occur:

    The lawyers present opening statements.

    The plaintiff calls witnesses and presents its evidence to prove the plaintiff’s case.

    The defendant calls witnesses and presents evidence to disprove the plaintiff’s case and/or to prove the defendant’s claim.

    The plaintiff may call rebuttal witnesses to disprove what was said by the defendant’s witnesses.

    The closing arguments are presented by a lawyer on each side.

    The judge instructs the jury as to the law.

    The jury retires to deliberate.

    The jury reaches its verdict and reports the verdict in open court.

    Throughout the trial, the judge will be asked by the lawyers to decide questions of law. Usually these questions concern objections to testimony that one side or the other wants to present. Occasionally, the judge may ask jurors to leave the courtroom briefly while the lawyers present their legal arguments for and against such objections. The law requires that the judge decide such questions and the jury need not worry itself over these issues.

    It is possible that the judge may decide most objections in favor of one party. That does not mean the case should or should not be decided by the jury for that party. Under such circumstances, the jury should maintain its objectivity and base its verdict strictly on the testimony and exhibits received in evidence during the trial.


    Following the lawyers’ final arguments, the judge instructs the jury on the rules of law to guide it in its deliberations. In both civil and criminal cases, it is the jury’s duty to decide the facts in accordance with the principles of law outlined in these instructions.

    These instructions, sometimes called the "charge" to the jury, often contain more than a statement of the rules of law applicable to the case. They may contain a reference to factual evidence in the case, noting, for instance, which facts are in dispute or which facts are not relevant to the case.

    Jurors are expected to use all the experience, common sense, and common knowledge they possess in reaching a verdict. They are not to rely, however, on any private sources of information. Thus, during the trial jurors should be careful not to discuss the case with anyone, including other jurors or their own family members. They should avoid radio and television broadcasts or newspaper accounts which might discuss the case. They also should avoid all contact with any lawyer, witness, or party in the case. Such contact may require a retrial of the case.

    If a juror is exposed to information about the case outside the courtroom, the juror should inform the judge or the judges’ staff immediately. This information should not be shared with other jurors. Also, if an outsider attempts to talk to a juror about the case, the juror should:

    Inform the person that it is improper for a juror to discuss the case or receive any information, except in the courtroom;

    Refuse to listen if the outsider persists;

    Report the incident at once to the judge or the judge’s staff.

    Individual jurors should never conduct any independent investigation of matters relating to the trial. For example, no juror should inspect the scene of an accident or try to recreate any event in the case. If an inspection is necessary or desirable, the judge will arrange to have the jurors transported to the scene as a group. Jurors also should not perform any reading or research regarding the case because the judge will offer through the jury instructions all of the law needed to decide the case.

    In unusual circumstances, jurors may be sequestered, that is, kept together until the verdict is rendered. In this highly unusual circumstance, the jury will be placed in a hotel at the court’s expense until the trial is completed.


    Usually, the first action by the jury is to select a foreperson to preside over jury deliberations. The foreperson is expected to organize the jury’s discussion, being careful to give every juror a fair opportunity to express his or her views.

    Jurors are expected to enter their discussions with open minds. They must treat all litigants equally and dispense justice without regard to race, color, religion, gender, age, disability or national origin.

    Jurors should exchange views freely, not hesitating to change their opinions if the deliberations have convinced them they were wrong initially. Jurors violate their oath if they reach their decision on the basis of how their verdict may affect other situations.


    In most cases, the judge will discharge the jurors after they return their verdict in a particular case. After dismissal, the jurors are free to leave the Courthouse. They are under no obligation to speak to any person about the case and may refuse all requests for interviews or comments by the news media. Attorneys are required by court rules to get the judge’s permission to interview jurors prior to any contact, so it may be wise for jurors to be sure that the court has given its "okay" before answering questions from lawyers in the case.

    This information came from a
    US Courts online article.

    *** Any law, statute, regulation or other precedent is subject to change at any time ***

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