What is Jury Duty and Why was I selected?

One of the most misunderstood civic duties that US citizens have is jury duty. The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to a trial by jury for many plaintiffs and defendants, and while serving on a jury is not mandatory, any citizen may be called upon to serve on a jury, and skipping that service can violate the law.

While many people have stories about serving on juries or being called to duty and attempting to avoid the process, most people are unfamiliar with the jury process, and when they learn more they are much more interested in participating.

Jury Service is a duty of all citizens, but it is also your right under both the U.S. and Colorado constitutions. Having a better understanding of what jury service means may be helpful to you.

 

The summons

 

Every trial court in the state of Colorado has a Jury Commissioner, whose job it is to select potential jurors and send out jury notices by mail. There is no particular method of selecting people who will receive a summons; in fact, it is based upon a random search of public records. Those records include voter registrations, Department of Motor Vehicle records and tax records. It is the random nature of selection for jury service that assists in making certain that there is no bias reflected in those who are called for jury duty.

Any citizen has the same chance as any other citizen to receive a Juror Summons on a particular day. It sometimes appears that some people are called more frequently than others, but this is not based upon a plan — it is simply a random event.

A typical Juror Summons looks like this:

jury

The Summons gives you information about where to appear, what time and date to appear, and also advises you as to various ways to check to see whether your presence is required. Some districts have websites that give you this information and some have telephone numbers for you to call within 48 hours of your service. In Denver, for example, you can see the procedures on the Jury Commissioner’s website.

You generally have the option, if the originally selected date and time is particularly inconvenient, to reschedule your jury service. However, most districts limit this to one continuance.

Next steps

The random nature of jury service is a hallmark of the process, and it continues through each step of the system. First, you are randomly selected to appear at the courthouse on a given day; once you arrive and check in you are again randomly selected to appear in a particular courtroom. Finally, you are randomly selected to sit in particular seats in the courtroom — some people will be in the jury box, and others will be in the audience portion of the courtroom. This randomization is meant to assure no bias in the selection process.

Colorado has a procedure known as “One Day, or One Trial.” This does not mean that you will only be required to sit on a trial for a single day. Instead, it means that you will not have to wait in the jury assembly area for longer than one day without being selected to sit on a jury trial.

If you are indeed selected, you may sit as a juror for as little as one-half day or sometimes more complicated trials require many weeks. The judge and lawyers will allow you to tell them if you have a particular hardship that would make sitting on a lengthy trial difficult for you. This will not automatically excuse you from jury service, but the judge and lawyers may be able to either accommodate your scheduling problems, or may excuse you from that particular jury. The key is to be completely honest about your situation to allow the judge and lawyers to make intelligent decisions about who will remain on a jury.

What information to share

Although you may hear advice about things to say that will likely mean you will be excused from jury service, there are no magic words or magic excuses. As you might imagine, jurors are very important to any case. The people who are involved in the case deserve to have jurors who will listen to the evidence in the case and make a decision about the case based only on that evidence. For example, my mother was a teacher, and it may be difficult for me to listen to a case where someone has sued a teacher. I would let the judge and lawyers know about that background, but that alone is not enough for me to be automatically excused.

Serving on a jury is nearly always a very valuable experience. While I was serving as a Judge in Denver District Court, I always spoke to jurors about their service once it had concluded. Nearly every single time, jurors told me that they really appreciated the ability to serve, and they found it a very valuable and informative experience. This included jurors who had originally come to my courtroom hoping not to be selected. Serving on a jury is perhaps the most power that a citizen can have. Your vote counts. Serving on a jury makes you a representative of your community, and it gives you a direct voice on important issues.

The next time you go to your mailbox and find a jury summons, I hope that you take the time to attend, and I hope that you are able to serve. Once you do, I also hope that you tell your friends and family about your experience. I can tell you that after nearly 10 years serving as a judge, I had more confidence in decisions made by jurors than I did in decisions I made alone. The different experiences, perspectives and thoughts of citizens nearly always led to a just result.

 

 

 

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