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Jury Duty--What it Means and How it Works

The Importance of Jury Service

Jury service is an important civic and community duty. Through service on a jury citizens have a direct hand in the administration of justice. Jury service is a privilege and a responsibility that should be accepted with pride. The justice system cannot work fairly unless jurors perform their duties properly.

How a Jury is Chosen

Pursuant to Idaho Code section 2-206, names are drawn at random from a list of registered voters and licensed drivers or other sources, as deemed by your county. All of those so drawn constitute the group from which jurors will be selected to hear particular cases.

A juror summons, qualification form, and prospective juror questionnaire are mailed to prospective jurors. The summons instructs them to come to the courthouse to appear for jury duty and the juror qualification form, which is mailed back to the court, asks questions to determine if they are legally qualified to serve on a jury. A prospective juror is DISQUALIFIED to serve on a jury if he/she:

There are no automatic excuses or exemptions from jury service in Idaho. Idaho law provides that a person may be excused from jury service only upon a showing of undue hardship, extreme inconvenience, or public necessity and then only for a limited period of time after which the person must report for jury service in accordance with the court's direction. Upon request, qualified jurors may be excused if they have served as a juror within the past 2 years or if they are 70 years of age or older. Upon written request and a showing of good cause, qualified jurors may postpone their term of service to another term.

The prospective juror questionnaire asks questions that will help the judge and attorneys determine the fairness and ability of jurors to sit on a particular case.

After propsective jurors arrive at the courthouse, the jury commissioner will direct them to a courtroom. All jurors will be asked to rise and to swear or affirm to answer truthfully the questions asked of them concerning their qualifications to act as a juror on a particular case. Prospective jurors will be questioned by the judge and the attorneys. This series of questions is sometimes called "voir dire." The judge and lawyers need to determine whether any of the prospective jurors has any information concerning the case or any opinions or attitudes which either of the lawyers believe may cause a juror to favor or disfavor some part of the evidence or one party or the other. Some of the questions are personal but they are not intended to be embarrassing. They are asked in order to determine if there is any reason someone should not sit on the case. Jurors may be excused for legal cause such as a personal or financial relationship with a party. Additionally, each attorney may excuse a limited number of jurors by what are called peremptory challenges.

After the jury has been selected, the jurors will be asked to rise and swear or affirm that they will render a true verdict according to the law and the evidence.

Once the jury has been sworn, the judge will give instructions about how the trial will be conducted--generally what the case is about and how the jury is to carry out its responsibilities.

The duty of a juror is to listen to the judge, witnesses, and lawyers; to deliberate calmly and fairly; and to decide intelligently and justly. The decision must be made upon the evidence presented in court.

Procedure in Trials

The person who initiates a lawsuit is known as the "plaintiff" in a civil case and the "State" or prosecuting attorney in a criminal case. The person against whom the lawsuit is brought is called the defendant. A lawsuit is begun when the plaintiff or prosecutor files a complaint or information in court. In a civil case the defendant then files an answer which states his/her side of the case. In a criminal case a defendant enters a plea of not guilty.

After the jury has been selected and sworn the trial of a case proceeds generally as follows. An opening statement is made by the attorney for the plaintiff or by the prosecuting attorney. The attorney for the defendant may then make an opening statement. The purpose of opening statements is to outline to the jury what each side, or party, believes the evidence will establish.

Following the opening statements, the prosecuting attorney or the attorney for the plaintiff presents evidence. Thereafter, the defendant may present evidence. There may also be rebuttal evidence. Evidence falls into two classes--testimony and exhibits. Testimony consists of statements made by witnesses under oath. Exhibits are physical objects such as photographs and written documents. The examination of witnesses by the party calling them is "direct examination." Each party has a right to ask questions of the other party's witnesses. This is "cross examination."

Rules of evidence have been developed through the years so that we may have fair and orderly trials. When a question is asked or an item of evidence is offered which an attorney believes is in violation of these rules, the attorney has a right to object to the question or use of the exhibit. The judge then decides whether the question is to be answered by the witness or whether the item of evidence may be used. At times the jury may be excused from the courtroom while objections are being discussed or for other reasons. Under the law, various matters must be heard out of the presence of the jury.

When all parties have presented their evidence, they "rest." At this time the judge will determine what instructions on the law shall be given to the jury. Each attorney has the right to make suggestions and objections. This process may take some time.

The judge then reads instructions on the law to the jury. The instructions define the issues they must decide and tell the jurors the law that governs the case. The jury should listen very carefully to these instructions bearing in mind that it is their sworn duty to follow the law as set forth in the instructions. The written instructions are available for use in the jury room. After the instructions are read, the attorneys make their closing arguments in which they summarize the evidence and try to persuade the jury to find in favor of their respective clients. The jury will go to the jury room to consider the case and reach a verdict. In the jury room a foreman is elected and the evidence, according to the judge's instructions, is reviewed.

When the jury reaches a verdict the jury will be returned to the courtroom. The judge or clerk will read the verdict and the jury may be polled to determine if the verdict that has been read accurately reflects each juror's verdict. The jury is then discharged.

People Involved in a Trial

The conduct of trial involves the following personnel:

Judge--presides over the trial, makes rulings as to the law, and has general charge of the proceedings and the participants.

Clerk--assists the judge in handling exhibits and making and keeping records which are the responsibility of the court and the clerk's office.

Reporter--takes and maintains complete shorthand notes of all proceedings unless the record of proceedings is made by electronic recording.

Bailiff--announces the opening and closing of court sessions and is responsible for maintaining order.

Attorneys--participate in trials as advocates for the parties in the controversy. It is their job to present their client's case.

Parties--the litigants; the persons or business who are suing or being sued in a court proceeding. The State of Idaho may be a party.

Jury Fees

By law you are entitled to receive $10 per full day of jury served or $5 for each half day or portions of a day served to help compensate you for the time spent away from your personal affairs. You will also be reimbursed for mileage from your home to the courthouse at the rate set by the county commissioners in your county for county employees.

The following policies are set by individual counties:

In Canyon County, the term of service is 1 calendar month. Each month between 400 and 500 names are drawn at random by the computer from the Master Jury List and a Juror Summons/Qualification Form is mailed to each person. Qualified jurors call an answering machine each evening during their term of service to determine when they should report for jury duty. Upon arriving at the courthouse, jurors are given an orientation and assigned to a courtroom for the selection process.


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