The Importance of Jury Duty
It is not hard to find a trial by jury on television. Some shows make them seem like they happen every day. In reality, at least in Virginia, this is not always the case. However, it is still important to know how they work and what your responsibilities are if you are ever called to participate.
Jury Duty Requirements:
According to “The Answer Book for Jury Service,” a primary resource written for Virginia’s citizens, “(p)otential jurors are selected randomly by the jury commissioners using lists designated by the courts, such as the voter registration list and the driver’s license list.” In other words, if you vote or drive, you may be chosen for jury duty.
It may be surprising to read this on a lawyer’s website, but few people love jury duty. Sure, “The Answer Book” refers to jury duty as a rewarding experience. However, it also acknowledges that it can be a “disruption” and an “inconvenience.”
When chosen, you have to appear in court on the appointed day in the event that you are needed for a particular trial. If you do not appear, you could be held in contempt of court. Contempt of court is punishable with a fine up to $250 and imprisonment up to ten days. Those who do not have time for jury duty probably have even less time for a ten-day jail sentence.
Jury Duty Exemptions:
While the law is strict about citizens serving on a jury when called, some exemptions are still built in. After all, some people are so essential to their daily roles in life that they cannot be pulled away from them for any period of time. The Code of Virginia details these exemptions.
Here are a few of them:
- Active-duty military servicemembers
- Certain state and local employees
- Self-employed/small business owners whose businesses or work in general would have to stop during jury duty
- Breast-feeding mothers
- Senior citizens over the age of 70
This is only a partial list. For instance, it leaves out the “mariner actually employed in maritime service.” But you get the point.
“Former president” is not on that list. One month ago, Barack Obama appeared for jury duty in Illinois. He was dismissed without having to serve on a jury. Only his closest friends and family know whether or not he was relieved.
A jury in a felony case will have 12 members; in a misdemeanor case, the final jury will have seven. Those final jurors are responsible to decide the “questions of fact.” Questions of fact are the disputed (but not always) incidents of trial. Is the witness credible? Where did the weapon go? What did the police find? “Your job is to listen to all the testimony, consider all the evidence, and decide what you think really happened.”
The types of cases can greatly vary. For instance, in December 2014, an entirely different kind of jury trial took place. Jurors had to sit through an eight-day trial featuring a dispute between two local companies, Areva and BWXT. Imagine sifting through “hundreds of exhibits, multiple witnesses, nuclear technology contracts and inspection of lengthy documents.” That is just what that jury did as part of its service. (Imagine again their frustration a couple of years later when the verdict was overturned on appeal, but that’s a story for another day.)
Potential jurists who are knowledgeable about a person’s rights are valuable to a defense attorney. An informed citizenry helps anyone who is depending on a jury of his peers to decide his or her future. Jury trials are a part of our criminal justice system. If you are facing the prospect of a jury trial, it is vital that you have the right attorney at your side. If this is you, call or e-mail today for a free consultation.
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