Many of you have received them, the letters in the mail informing you that you have been chosen for jury duty. This duty may feel more like a burden than a privilege and a right. If chosen, you may have to miss work for a few days, scramble to find child care, or completely rearrange your schedule. But for the parties in these cases, this process is not a burden, but the most important responsibility to their fellow citizens.
Why is Jury Duty Important?
Juries are an integral part of our justice system. They are used in criminal and civil cases, which have different burdens, but the same goal: the determination of truth and the fair and equitable application of the law.
To qualify to serve as a juror under North Carolina law, a person: (1) must be a citizen of the United States and a resident of North Carolina, (2) must be a resident of the county in which called them to be a juror, (3) must be at least 18 years of age, (4) must be physically and mentally competent to serve, (5) must be able to hear and understand the English language, (6) must not have been convicted or pled guilty to a felony unless citizenship has been restored according to law and (7) must not have served as a juror during the preceding two years.
Do I Have to Serve on a Jury?
Many people are under the false impression that you can go and in tell the judge that you can’t participate in jury duty because you can’t miss work. This is not the case and the judge will more than likely not excuse you merely because you are employed. Most employers are very familiar with jury duty and the importance of it, so they do not deter their employees from participating.
You may report for jury duty and after sitting through a couple of days of jury selection, you may be excused from your duty and never even be asked a single question. Just because you were summoned to be there, does not mean you will actually be selected to serve on the jury. If you are one that is chosen to serve on a jury, there are many things you need to remember.
- Always be on time for court sessions
- Always sit in the same seat
- Listen to every question and answer
- Do not talk about the case
- Follow the law
All of the above rules of conduct are important, but I want to discuss “not talking about the case” a little further. The judge will tell you over and over and over again NOT TO TALK ABOUT THE CASE. This instruction means not talk to ANYONE about the case, even other jurors, until the judge instructs you that you are permitted to talk about the case. The only time you are even allowed to discuss the case with other jurors is when you are in the deliberation room as a jury. You are not allowed to discuss this case while you are walking to your car together, eating lunch together and you can’t email, text, or Facebook message them about the case. This instruction also includes spouses. You can’t talk to your spouse about this case.
You should not allow anyone else involved in the case, such as the judge or attorneys, to talk to you or talk in your presence about this case.
I have known judges to hold jurors in criminal contempt for talking to their spouses about the case and then telling the other jurors about what their spouses said. This type of conduct is not condoned by the court.
If you are summoned for jury duty, please take this duty very seriously and recognize how important you, as an American citizen and juror, are to our justice system.