You get the summons in the mail and what are your first thoughts? Oh no! Why me? How do I get out of serving? I don’t have time for this.
If any of these responses ring true for you I hope that reading this will give you a different perspective and help you to look forward to the “opportunity to serve.” Yes, I said opportunity to serve. Instead of seeing jury service as an obligation that takes you away from your work, family or fun, think of it as your opportunity to participate in the greatest system of justice that exists. Think of it as your opportunity to ensure that the rights guaranteed by our constitution and justice system are not just promises, but a reality for you, your family members, friends, neighbors and all citizens of the United States.
You, as a citizen, get to ensure that “liberty and justice for all” is not just a promise recited in the Pledge of Allegiance, but a reality. You get to listen to the facts, evaluate the evidence, judge the credibility of the witnesses and have input in the decision process that will determine the outcome of a civil lawsuit or criminal proceeding. Instead of simply watching a legal thriller, you get to participate in one that actually will have an impact on someone’s life.
In a civil lawsuit the jury is charged with the responsibility of determining whether the Plaintiff (person who filed the lawsuit), should prevail and be awarded monetary damages from the Defendant (person being sued), as a result of some wrong or harm suffered by the Plaintiff. The most common civil cases are for personal injuries, breaches of contracts, malpractice and employment law, but there are many other subject areas. Civil juries are asked to determine whether monetary compensation is appropriate and, if so, the amount that should be awarded to compensate the Plaintiff. Nine of the twelve jurors on a civil case must agree on each issue to be decided in order for a verdict to be reached. The judge will guide you by giving jury instructions which will guide your discussions and deliberation process. Each juror’s input is valuable and important to reaching a verdict.
In a criminal proceeding the jury is asked to determine someone’s guilt or innocence. The prosecuting attorney is acting on behalf of the people of the state of California or a City. The Defendant may be represented by a Public Defender or private attorney. The Defendant’s attorney’s job is to ensure that the Defendant is not unjustly prosecuted and that the Defendant receives all the rights afforded to him under the Constitution. The verdict from a criminal jury will affect the Defendant’s freedom and criminal record.
The type of case, number of issues, and witnesses will dictate the length of the trial and time needed from the jurors who are impaneled on each case. Given the cut backs in our court budgets and the costs of bringing cases to trial, many trials are less than a week long. You may be able to serve on an expedited jury trial where the presentation of the entire case takes only one day.
We’ve all watched the news and heard bits and pieces of information on cases and verdicts and questioned the outcome. The truth is that only the jurors who participated in reaching those verdicts know all of the facts and circumstances that resulted in the verdict. We can only hope that those jurors listened to the evidence, followed the law as set forth in the jury instructions, and reached a just result.
I hope that life always treats you fairly and that you never find yourself as a litigant in our justice system. But if you do, I hope that you will have confidence in our justice system because the jurors that respond to their service when called for your case value and appreciate their opportunity to serve.
Learn more about preparing for jury duty.
OPO has obtained large settlements during jury trials over the past 36 years for personal injury victims.