Fact vs. Fiction

Here are some facts, as well as misconceptions, or fiction about jury service.

Fiction: It is more difficult than ever to report for jury service.

Fact: The system we have for selecting juries is more fair and efficient than it used to be. People can respond to their jury summons via the internet or in person. And we’re finding that our juries are much better informed about current events locally and nationally as a result of newspapers, TV news, and the internet.

Fiction: Jurors are selected by people in the legal system according to some secret criteria.

Fact: Jurors are randomly selected from voter or driver registration lists in your county. It is strictly the luck of the draw.

Fiction: Discussions between judges and attorneys at the bench are about non-legal matters.

Fact: Discussions between judges and attorneys at the bench are usually about objections or evidence; and until those legal matters are cleared up, the jury should not be influenced by them.

Fiction: When a judge calls a recess and goes back to chambers, he or she is watching TV or relaxing.

Fact: When a judge calls a break, he or she is often working on important administrative details or case details that are too sensitive for the court environment.

Fiction: Attorneys only pick jurors with a college degree.

Fact: The main thing we’re looking for from potential jurors is the ability to be open to both sides of a debate. It’s up to the lawyers to present the evidence clearly. But we count on the juries to be honest in deciding for themselves what is true and what is fair. That is not based on intelligence or education- it’s just a basic sense of right and wrong.

Fiction: All jury trials last several weeks.

Fact: Depending on the type of case, most jury trials only take a couple of days. However, some cases, which involve complex issues, can take weeks to present to a jury.

Fiction: Like in the movie "Twelve Angry Men," all juries are made up of 12 people.

Fact: Juries can be comprised of either six people to twelve people, or sometimes a number in between that. It really depends on the type of case. We just want to make sure we’re getting a good cross section of citizens and opinions. Alternates are often selected on high profile and lengthy cases. Should a juror become ill or unable to serve, there will be enough qualified citizens who have listened to the evidence will still be available to deliberate and reach a verdict.

Fiction: Lawyers ask questions designed to figure out who will help reach a verdict in their client’s favor.

Fact: Voir Dire is a French term that means "Speak the Truth." Prospective jurors are sworn to tell the truth so that the attorneys or judge can ask questions to find out if they can be impartial unbiased, and trusted to make a reasonable decision based on the facts of the case.

Fiction: The party whose lawyer does the best job of presenting his or her case should win the court case.

Fact: Once you are selected to serve on a jury, your primary job is to listen and consider the evidence presented. In making your decision, you should weigh the evidence- not the performance of the attorneys.

Fiction: Jury verdicts are not really legally binding because most cases are appealed.

Fact: You hear a lot in the news about court decisions being appealed. Most cases are not nearly as high profile as the ones you hear about in the news, and the verdicts reached by the juries do stand most of the time. Juries are a central part of a system of checks and balances, and great deference is given to their verdicts by the higher courts.

Fiction: Your employer must pay you while you are performing jury service.

Fact: While many employers do pay employees for their time away from work, they are not required to do so. But they cannot fire you for missing work due to jury service. And jurors are paid a daily fee from the court for each day of their service.

Fiction: The jury foreman, who speaks for the group, is assigned by the judge.

Fact: A man or woman from the jury is selected by the group to be the foreman.

Fiction: All jury trials end with a verdict.

Fact: Many cases are settled out of court before the trial is to begin. The fact that a group of citizens stand ready to hear a case and collectively wield the power of public opinion is a great incentive. You’re never quite sure how the jury will find, they could find against you. It is literally the power of the people that motivates the attorneys to reach a mutual accommodation for both sides in a dispute.