Jury Duty – What To Expect
You open the mailbox and there is it – the dreaded jury summons. It seems that no one looks forward to serving on a jury. Let’s be honest, most people don’t have time to spend days away from work. However, having citizens to serve on a jury is an essential part of our justice system. It may feel like a burden, but it is an honorable responsibility. Perhaps some of the apprehension felt before reporting to jury duty is due to an unfamiliarity with the process. This article is an attempt to give an overview of what to expect when called for jury duty.
Jury Duty in McLennan County
To start with, you want to make sure you are really needed. In McLennan County there is a number listed on your summons that you can call and make sure you need to report. If your summons number is high enough, you may not be needed. If you do have to report, read on:
When you arrive at the courthouse, you will go to the courthouse annex along with everyone else summoned. There will be some initial determinations made as to who is able to serve and who is not. If you are part of the group who is excused from jury duty, you will bring that to the attention of the court.
You may be excused from jury duty if you:
- Are over 70 years of age?
- Do you have legal custody of a child under 10 years of age and jury duty would leave the child unsupervised?
- Are a student registered in class?
- Are you an officer or employee of the Texas Senate, House of Representatives or department, commission, board office or other agency in the legislative branch of government?
- Are you the primary caretaker of a person who is unable to care for themselves (an invalid)?
- Are you a member of the U.S. military on active duty and deployed away from your home station and out of your county of residence?
- Can show a physical or mental impairment or an inability to comprehend or to communicate in English?
- Have served as a juror during the 24-months preceding the date you are required to appear?
Falling into one of these categories doesn’t mean you can’t serve, it just means you are allowed to ask to be excused from jury duty. Note that difficulties being away from work are not on the list. You may have the chance to ask the judge to dismiss you based on your work schedule, but the judge does not have to let you go.
If you are not excused, then you will be assigned to a court. The 5 District Courts in McLennan County each have cases where 12 jurors are required. In the 2 County Courts, only 6 jurors hear each case. You will likely be asked to report to the courtroom for jury selection (voir dire).
Jury Selection (Voir Dire)
Voir dire is the process of choosing the 6 or 12 people to sit on the jury out of the panel. The size of the panel depends on the court and the nature of the case. During voir dire you will be asked questions by the attorneys and sometimes by the judge. The answers you give during voir dire must be truthful. You may learn the nature of the case to be heard, but you will not be informed of any of the facts of the case.
The voir dire process will normally last from one hour to several hours. In a capital murder case, the process can last for many days or weeks. Generally you will get through voir dire and into the presentation of the case on the same day. During voir dire the attorneys will be asking questions to try and determine the best jury for that particular case. The attorneys are trying to figure out if anyone on the panel will have a hard time being fair to either side of the case. For example, if the case is about drunk driving, someone who recently lost a family member in a drunk driving accident may not be able to be fair to the defendant. There is nothing wrong with having a hard time being fair in a particular type of case, but it is important that the people who sit on a jury are those who can be impartial until they have heard all the evidence.
Once the attorneys have asked all their questions, everyone on the panel will be asked to leave the courtroom. The attorneys will tell the judge which members of the panel they wish to strike “for cause.” This means that the attorney has reason to think that person will not be able to be fair or be able to follow the law. Sometimes a person is called back into the courtroom to answer questions to clarify their position. After all the strikes for cause have been made, the attorneys are able to strike a certain number of panel members for any reason they wish, outside of any discriminatory reasons. These are called preemptory strikes. Once the court has accepted all the strikes, the panel is called back in. Then those who have been accepted onto the jury will be named and all the rest will be free to go. After the judge gives a long list of instructions to the jury, the trial will begin.
Getting Out of Jury Duty
A note for those who do not wish to serve jury duty: Talk. The strikes made by the attorneys are based on the answers given during voir dire. If someone sits on the panel and does not give any answers, the attorneys will have no reason to strike that person. If you answer enough questions then chances are you will say something that makes one side want to get rid of you.
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