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Selected to Serve: A Guide to Jury Service

This guide is divided into three sections.

  • Section I - How Jury Service Operates
    Answers questions about being called to jury service and arrangements that need to be made to perform that service.
  • Section II - The Jury Selection
    Process explains the jury selection process.
  • Section III - The Trial Process
    Answers questions about how jurors play their role during the trial itself.                                                                                                                                                      


Section I. How Jury Service Operates


How was I chosen?

Your name was chosen at random from driver's license and voter registration lists. Questionnaires are sent to the people whose names emerge from the random selection. Court personnel review the completed questionnaires to make sure that the minimum juror qualifications relating to age, citizenship, residency, etc., are met.

How frequently might I have to serve?

By law, you can be required to participate in jury service only once every two years. You will not be required to attend court for possible jury service more than five days, except as necessary to complete service in a particular trial.

What if my boss doesn't want me to serve?

The law makes clear that you must be excused from your job for jury service. You cannot be fired or demoted in any way for performing this public duty.

Will I be paid for jury service?

Current Utah law sets the compensation level for jurors at $18.50 for the first day and $49 for each subsequent day of service. Some employers are willing to pay their workers at the normal rate during jury service, and the workers then turn the state compensation amount over to the employer. The court will pay .25 a mile, one way, for mileage of those who must travel over 52 miles from home to the court facility.

Can I be excused from jury service?

Judges can excuse people who show that they have a physical or mental disability that renders them incapable of jury service. Judges can also grant a postponement of jury service when they decide that such service would result in great hardship or inconvenience. But these postponements are rare. Everyone is inconvenienced to some degree by jury service, but for the system to work, people from all walks of life must be willing to serve. Those who refuse to complete the juror questionnaire or to appear when called to serve are subject to the imposition of fines and jail time.

Once I qualify for jury service, how long am I eligible for it?

The length of terms for jury service vary depending on your judicial district. You are eligible for only one month in Third District (Salt Lake area). But in more rural districts, with a smaller population base from which to select jurors, terms of eligibility can last as long as six months.

What happens after I am determined to be qualified for jury service?

Sometime during the term of eligibility you are likely to be notified by the court that you are "on call" for jury service during the next week. The court will let you know how to keep in touch. Some courts have a call-in system, where potential jurors check in each evening to see if they will be needed at the courthouse the next day.

You need to let your employer/teachers know when you are "on call" for jury service. But you shouldn't take time off from work or school until you have actually been instructed to come to the courthouse. The court cannot issue a letter stating that you have served on a jury if you were never called.

How do I prepare for jury service?

Be sure to arrive at the courthouse on time. A latecomer can hold up a trial involving scores of people. Instructions from the court will tell you where to park and where to report in the building. Wear appropriate attire. Most courts prohibit shorts or tank tops.

Who do I call if I have more questions?

The court will list a number on the jury service notice that you can call for additional information.


II. The Jury Selection Process


What determines whether or not I serve on a jury?

Once you arrive at the courthouse, you will be led to a jury assembly room. Sometimes a case will settle out of court right before a trial is scheduled. For these or other reasons you might not be needed for the jury pool after all. When this happens, you will be dismissed for the day.

Those of you assigned to a trial that is going forward will be escorted to the courtroom where the trial is taking place, and the selection process will begin. First, the judge will make a short statement describing the case, and identifying the parties to the case and their lawyers. During this process, the judge, and sometimes the counsel for each side, will ask you questions, which you are required to answer truthfully. The questions asked are aimed at finding out if any panel members have a personal interest in the case or if there is some other reason why they could not render an impartial verdict.

Why are potential jurors sometimes asked personal questions during the juror selection process?

In some cases, you may be asked questions about your background that make you uncomfortable. The court does not wish to invade your privacy. But it is sometimes necessary for the court to know these facts to ensure a fair trial. If you are uncomfortable about answering a question, you can request to discuss it with the judge privately in chambers (in his or her office).

What are "Challenges?"

The process through which a lawyer for either side asks that a panel member be excused is called a "challenge." There are two types of challenges:

  • Challenges for cause - Here the lawyer claims on the basis of information provided by the panel member that he or she might not be able to render an impartial verdict. An example of a challenge for cause might be one in which a lawyer asks to excuse a panel member from serving during an auto theft trial since the juror's car had been stolen just the week before. The judge will grant challenges for cause if he or she agrees with the lawyer's argument that impartiality might be threatened. There is no limit to the number of challenges for cause which either party can make.
  • Peremptory challenges - Each side has a limited number of challenges for which no reason need be given. These peremptory challenges give both sides some choice in the make-up of the jury.

At the end of the selection process, those in the panel who have been "challenged" will be excused, and those remaining will be sworn in as jurors.

Does failure to be chosen for a jury mean I did something wrong in the selection process?

Not at all. The fact that a person is not chosen for a jury panel is no reflection whatsoever on that person's integrity or worthiness to serve. People not chosen for one panel will often find themselves chosen for another.


III. The Trial Process


Will I have to be sequestered away from my family during a long trial?

Long trials are rare. Most last only one or two days. Juries are very seldom sequestered. Years go by with not one jury in the state being sequestered. The courts cannot guarantee that the trial won't be long, or that you won't be sequestered, but both events are unlikely.

What's the difference between a criminal and a civil case?

Criminal - In a criminal case a person called the defendant is charged with a violation of the law. The attorney representing the state or local government is called the prosecutor (or sometimes the city, county, or district attorney.)

In criminal cases the judge will inform the jury about the law, and the jury must decide if the defendant has broken that law. Criminal verdicts in Utah must be unanimous. In criminal cases, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime.

Prior to the criminal trial, the defendant will have appeared before the judge to plead guilty or not guilty to the criminal charges. This hearing before the judge is called an arraignment.

Civil - Civil cases involve disputes (usually about money) which the parties haven't been able to solve between themselves, and have turned to the court system to resolve. The person bringing the complaint in a civil suit is called the plaintiff. The one defending him or herself against the complaint is the defendant.

In a civil case, the jury is asked to determine which side is favored by the preponderance of evidence. Civil jury decisions can be made by a three-fourths majority of jurors. A unanimous verdict is not required, as it is in a criminal trial.

What is my most important job as a juror?

As a juror, your major job is that of fact finder. You must listen carefully for the facts presented as evidence by each side, and use your life experience and common sense to make a judgment. It is very important to keep an open mind while all the evidence is being presented. Making your mind up early in the trial, before all the evidence is in, could result in a failure to reach a fair and just verdict.

How is a trial conducted?
  1. The trial usually begins with opening statements from each side. These are summaries reviewing what each side intends to prove during its presentation of the case. Note that these statements are not evidence.
  2. Each side presents its case, with witnesses and other evidence. Witnesses called by either side are subject to cross examination by the other side.
  3. The judge delivers instructions to the jury regarding the relevant law.
  4. The prosecution (or plaintiff) and defense present closing arguments. The prosecution (plaintiff) then presents a rebuttal of the points made by the defense.
  5. The jury retires to deliberate.
  6. The jury reaches and announces its verdict.
What is happening when a lawyer "objects" to a question asked by the other side?

Throughout the trial, the judge may be asked to decide questions of law. Usually these questions concern objections to testimony that one side wants to present. By law, it is the judge's job to decide such questions. A ruling by the judge does not indicate that he or she is taking sides. The judge is just determining that the law does or does not permit that question to be asked.

Why will the jurors sometimes be asked to leave while the judge talks to the lawyers?

Sometimes the judge will ask jurors to leave the room while lawyers make arguments for and against admission of a particular piece of evidence or on some other point of law. Jurors are asked not to speculate about what was discussed, but instead to base their reasoning only on what is presented to them.

At what point can I discuss the trial with others?

It is important that you not discuss the trial with anyone (even fellow jurors) until the jury is sent out to deliberate. In a multi-day trial you must not discuss the case with family members, friends, or anyone else. If someone approaches you in the courthouse or elsewhere and tries to discuss the trial with you, leave immediately, and report the incident to the court (the judge). The bailiff will deliver any written messages you wish to convey to the judge.

Jurors must make their decision on the basis of the evidence presented at the trial, and not on the basis of any outside information about the case. For this reason jurors are prohibited from reading, watching, or listening to any media accounts of the trial, and from visiting the crime scene themselves or trying to discover any information about the crime scene on their own.

What Happens During Deliberations?

At the beginning of deliberations, you will be asked to select a chair person. It is that person's job to preside over the deliberations and give each jury member a chance to express his or her views.

You should enter the discussion with an open mind and freely exchange views. You shouldn't hesitate to change your opinion if the deliberations convince you that they were wrong initially. You are obligated to reach a verdict whenever possible. But no juror is required to give up any opinion which he or she is convinced is correct.

What Happens After Jury Service is Completed?

After you return to the courtroom and announce your verdict, the judge will formally dismiss you from jury service. You may then freely discuss the case, but you are not required to discuss the case with anyone. One or more of the lawyers in the case may want to discuss the verdict or the deliberations with you. You may talk to them if you wish, but are under no obligation to do so.

Might I be able to evaluate the performance of my judge?

At the end of some trials, jurors will be asked to complete a questionnaire evaluating the performance of their judge. These questionnaires are part of the Judicial Performance evaluation program, aimed at improving the administration of justice in Utah.

This outline contains general guidelines to jury service. In your particular district, procedures might be somewhat different. Jury service procedures will be explained by the judge or jury service personnel at your court.