A few months ago, I received a letter in the mail notifying me that I would be considered for jury duty. More recently, I reported to the courthouse in Bridgeport like other potential jurors for a day of interviews to decide who would be chosen to serve.
While many of us would prefer not to receive a jury selection notice in the mail, this process is an essential part of our American legal system because it brings a common sense perspective to the case. The beauty of jury duty is that it enables every case to be reviewed by a group of our “peers” rather than just lawyers and judges.
As an elder law attorney, I know the important role a jury plays in both civil and criminal cases.
A civil case involves at least two parties who are in a dispute over a transaction or issue. Examples of civil cases are when someone is injured in a car accident, when someone believes they were charged too much under a contract or when you have a dispute over your property line with a neighbor. A criminal case is when an individual is believed to have committed a crime and the state brings that person to court to prove they did, in fact, commit the crime. In both types of cases, parties are guaranteed a trial by a jury of their “peers” whose job it is to bring the everyday, reasonable person viewpoint to the case to counter-balance that of lawyers, government and business. This is a distinguishing feature of the American legal system and one which benefits us all.
Serving on a jury is one of the most important civic duties that we can perform for our neighbors as members of our civil society. Through teamwork between the judge and members of the jury, justice is made possible and our rights and liberties can be protected. In fact, the United States is one of only a few nations that routinely use jury trials for a wide variety of both civil and criminal cases. Other nations often use judges to oversee smaller cases. Incredibly, over 550,000 people are randomly selected each year, while about 110,000 will ultimately be chosen to serve on juries in our state.
How is a jury chosen? Potential jurors are selected by random from a combination of four lists, including licensed drivers from the Department of Motor Vehicles, registered voters from the Secretary of the State, state income taxpayers from the Department of Revenue Services and those who received unemployment benefits from the Department of Labor.
Juries are typically made up of between six and twelve people as well as additional alternates who may be asked to join the jury at a later date because of the dismissal or absence of another juror. During the trial, there are many rules surrounding how we must behave, including not communicating or researching information about the case. Jurors continue to receive their salary from their employer, and the state may provide compensation if the duty is extended. However, about 80 percent of jurors complete their service in one day. Once jury duty is completed, a juror will not be required to serve again for four years.
At the end of the day, I was not chosen to serve on a jury, but I was honored to have been a part of the process. While it may not be very popular, jury duty is an essential service that allows our justice system to work fairly by including the viewpoint and decision of non-lawyer citizens. Without this viewpoint, our legal system would surely suffer. To learn more about serving on a jury, please visit the Connecticut Jury Administration website at www.jud.ct.gov/jury.