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One of the responsibilities of registered voters in the United States is the distinct possibility of serving jury duty. County and city governments often maintain rolls of eligible voters, and every so often a pool of them are summoned to the courthouse for jury duty. Some are dismissed almost immediately, while others may be questioned by attorneys or a judge. Those who survive the initial interviews are most certainly destined to become jury members or alternates in a court trial.
If you are called to serve jury duty, you may have to be prepared for a number of scenarios. At the very least, you'll need to inform your employer and/or family members of your new circumstances. Employers may need to reschedule other employees to cover your time away or hire a temporary replacement.
You may also want to inquire about the company's policy regarding jury duty. Some companies compensate summoned employers as usual, while others charge the absence as unpaid personal leave. You may receive some monetary compensation for your services while on jury duty, but this amount is usually nominal.
Since predicting the length of a court proceeding is difficult at best, you'll also need to reschedule or cancel outstanding appointments for the duration of your stint on jury duty. If you are responsible for a carpool or after-school pick-ups, you'll need to make alternative arrangements. On the rare chance that your jury becomes sequestered, another family member or friend may have to assume many of your normal household responsibilities. Access to phones and other communications may be restricted by court order, so make sure to have a long-term plan in mind before you leave for jury duty.
The good news is that most court trials only last a few days to a week. Both sides of a case strive to present evidence in a clear and understandable manner. The judge is often available to answer the jury's questions over legal definitions.
A foreperson is elected to act as a facilitator for deliberations, and you'll be expected to vote according to your own perception of the facts presented in court. If the vote reaches a certain majority opinion or unanimity, depending on the type of case, then the jury's foreperson hands over the jury's verdict to the presiding judge. Once the verdict is read, the jury members are released from jury duty.
One important element to prepare for when summoned to jury duty is the reality of the deliberation process. Unlike the fictional juries of crime shows or movies, relatively few jury members hold out on an 11 to 1 vote for very long. Emotions can run high during deliberations, especially if the case involves a violent crime, but not often at the feverish pitch portrayed on television. You may find yourself sharing a minority opinion, but a careful reconsideration of the evidence could change your mind. Jury duty on a controversial or high-profile case can be a life-changing experience, so be prepared to experience a wide range of emotions while deliberating a verdict.
I'm always afraid I'm going to get summoned to jury duty and get put on some high profile murder trial, like the OJ Simpson case. The first time I received a jury duty summons, I got excused because I had a professional relationship with the defendant. The second time, I was interviewed by both sides and the prosecution apparently didn't like my opinion on the death penalty. I was stricken from the jury pool.
My advice to anyone preparing for jury duty is to plan for all possible outcomes. You might get dismissed an hour after the jury selection process begins. You might get seated on a civil case that will get settled in two days, and you get
to go home every night. You may end up on a complicated criminal case and wind up sequestered in a hotel room for a long time. You may get to communicate with the outside world, or you may be cut off from all sources of information.
When I got my first jury duty summons in the mail, I was scared to death. I had no idea what to do, where to go or who to call. My dad had been summoned to jury duty a few times, so he helped me figure out the legal side of the process. I had to go to the courthouse at the time and day listed on the summons. That part of it started to make sense.
What I didn't know was what to do about my pets and my job and my family obligations. I needed to find a sitter for my apartment and someone who could take my mother to her dialysis treatments if I wasn't going
to be home for a while. I told my boss, and he said he could find a temporary replacement. I could tell he wasn't happy about it, though. Fortunately, my case was over in three days and I could go back to my normal life.
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