When you receive a summons for jury duty for the first time, it may take you aback. This is probably not something you were expecting, not something you had even thought much about. However, state law requires that all qualified North Dakotans serve as jurors, and the summons shows you were among those randomly selected for an upcoming jury term.
Types of juries
In our federal trial courts, there are two types of juries: the trial jury, which is also known as the petit jury, and the grand jury. The latter consists of 16 to 23 people who examine evidence presented to them by the U.S. attorney. They use this information to determine whether there is probable cause for a crime to have been committed. If so, an indictment is issued against the person accused of the misdeed. Most people will serve on a trial jury, however. Six to 12 jurors will arrive at a verdict in favor of the defendant or plaintiff in a civil case, or decide if the defendant in a criminal case is guilty or not guilty.
Requirements for prospective jurors
The court keeps a list of possible jurors compiled from sources such as voting records and motor vehicle licenses. When a jury term approaches, people are picked at random and the mailings go out. To be considered for jury service, certain requirements must be met. A juror must be:
- At least 18 years of age
- A U.S. citizen
- A resident of North Dakota and the appropriate county
- Able to read, speak and understand the English language reasonably well
- Physically and mentally able to serve
Anyone who has been imprisoned for a felony will not be approved to serve on a jury.
To serve or not to serve
You might serve as a juror on two or three cases during your tour of duty, or on a single case that lasts for several days. On the other hand, you could be excused if, during questioning by the judge or an attorney, it is determined that you have a conflict of interest. You might be related to someone connected with the case, for example, or you might have preconceived notions that would prevent you from being an impartial juror. You could also be excused on the grounds of public necessity, undue hardship or extreme inconvenience.
Consider the importance
The founding fathers thought that trial by jury was so important that it was included in the Bill of Rights; it is part of our American democracy. Serving as a juror provides an opportunity for any qualified citizen to participate in our system of governing, and being involved in the way our legal systems works can be an enriching experience.