The Richmond Register

September 2, 2013

Jury Duty: Fact vs. Myth

Misconceptions abound about key feature of American justice

By Sarah Hogsed
Register News Writer

RICHMOND — While many people may think getting called for jury duty is a serious inconvenience, Madison Circuit Judge Jean C. Logue always takes the time during jury orientation to convince them otherwise.

“Outside of being in the military, the only other time you are called to serve your country is jury service,” Logue told a recent pool of prospective jurors.

In our country, “ultimately the decisions are made by the citizens,” Logue said, and juries are a part of that process. In other countries, dictators and kings make those decisions, and those nondemocratic forms of government are “very real threats in our world,” she said.

Several misconceptions exist about jury service, and depending on which type of court case you serve on, your experience can vary greatly. The following is a list of facts and myths surrounding jury duty.

If you don’t register to vote, you will never get called for jury duty.

FALSE


In the past, jury pools were selected from voter registration lists, but that changed in the early 1990s. Now in addition to voter registration, if you have a driver’s license or file income tax returns, you can be called for jury duty.

“It’s nearly impossible to not be on the list,” Logue said.

The requirements to serve on a Madison County jury are you must be 18, be a resident of Madison County and a citizen of the United States and be able to speak and understand English. Felons cannot serve on a jury unless they have had their rights restored by the state governor.

You also cannot have had jury duty in the past two years.

The Internal Revenue Service, plus Kentucky’s Transportation Cabinet and the Board of Elections supply the list of each county’s eligible residents to the Administrative Office of the Courts in Frankfort.

When, for instance, a jury pool is needed in Madison Circuit Court, a request is sent to Frankfort and about 100 people are randomly selected by computer. If a trial is expected to be lengthy or involve the death penalty, a much larger number of people will be called.

After your service in a jury pool is completed, which usually lasts about a month for trial courts and three months for grand juries (they meet about once a week), you are exempt from jury duty for two years. Your service counts whether or not you get selected to serve on a trial jury.

Certain groups of people can usually get excused or service postponement.

TRUE


When people get called to jury duty, many automatically think of ways to “get out” of performing the service because of the missed days of work and lost wages.

Jurors in Kentucky are paid $12.50 a day – $5 for service and $7.50 for expenses, such as food.

Kentucky law prohibits “automatic” exemptions, so each person called for jury duty must submit paperwork or speak to the judge about why he or she can not serve on the jury pool.

Interestingly, the state law does say a judge “shall excuse” from jury duty a woman who is breastfeeding.

People with permanent medical conditions that render them incapable of jury service can be granted a permanent exemption, Logue said.

College students can request to have their service postponed until the summer months.

Logue said she is not opposed to working with potential jurors and their schedules, especially those that are self-employed or have seasonal jobs. For example, Logue said she would probably not make an accountant perform jury duty during April, the month income tax returns are due.

“We try to work with people to make (jury duty) not a difficult thing,” Logue said.

The legal standard she must apply for anyone asking for an excuse or postponement is whether jury service at that time causes “undue hardship,” “extreme inconvenience” or if that person’s job is of “public necessity.”

A range of ages, professions, genders and races is important to have in a jury pool, Logue said, so excuses and postponements of jury duty are not casually granted.

“We want (the jury) to be a true reflection of our community,” the judge said.

Logue herself has been called to jury duty twice, and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Smith also said he has served jury duty. They were not automatically dismissed from the pool based on their professions, however neither was selected to serve on a jury.

A jury’s verdict must be unanimous.

FALSE


This is true for criminal trials – in circuit court, which handles felony cases, all 12 jurors must come to a unanimous conclusion on whether the defendant is guilty. If they cannot, it is called a “hung jury” and the case will be declared a mistrial. This means the Commonwealth (prosecution), if it chooses to do so, can empanel a new jury and retry the case.

In district court, which tries cases involving misdemeanors and violations, the jury is made up of six people who must come to a unanimous decision for a guilty verdict.

However, in civil cases in which people are suing for monetary damages, the jury’s decision does not have to be unanimous. A verdict in circuit court can be reached with nine or more people in agreement out of 12.

In district court civil cases, which involve smaller amounts of money, five out of six jurors must be in agreement to reach a verdict.

The grand jury, which hears cases behind closed doors and determines whether the state has sufficient evidence to prosecute a felony crime, also does not have to come to a unanimous decision to indict. Nine out of 12 grand jurors must be in agreement to hand down an indictment.

If you know someone involved in the case (lawyer, defendant, plaintiff, witnesses), you will automatically be excused as a potential juror.

FALSE


When the pool shows up for jury duty, 31 names are called randomly, and those people are moved up to the front of the courtroom. The judge will ask them questions, then the attorneys for each side will ask a series of questions about their backgrounds and potential biases.

This process is called voir dire, also known as jury selection.

One of the first things asked by the judge is whether any of the potential jurors know the lawyers, defendant, plaintiff or witnesses who will be called to testify.

However, simply knowing a player in the case from church or your child’s soccer league does not automatically result in a dismissal from jury duty. The judge will ask the potential juror if the connection with the person involved in the case will cause a bias. Often a potential juror will say the connection will not make him biased, but sometimes further discussion is needed with the judge and attorneys.

A potential juror usually will be dismissed if he admits, or the court determines, he cannot be fair and impartial because of his connection with a person involved with the trial.

When a person is dismissed during jury selection from the group of 31, a name is randomly called from the remaining pool of jurors to fill that spot.

Finally, when attorneys for both sides are done questioning the 31 potential jurors, they will deliberate on who they want to remove from the jury pool for that case. Each side is allowed to strike a certain number of jurors.

After the judge accepts those strikes, 13 to 14 jurors are randomly selected from those who were questioned during voir dire.

The extra jurors are alternates in case a person gets sick or injured and otherwise cannot serve after the trial begins. However, the alternates are not selected until the end of the trial, and they are removed from the jury just prior to final deliberations.

You can go to jail if you don’t show up for jury duty.

TRUE (but unlikely)


Every jury pool called in Madison County always has a few “no-shows.”

Most judges will never automatically issue an arrest warrant for those people, according to Logue. Instead, a “show cause” order will be issued, and a sheriff’s deputy will serve it to the person. The person will be required to appear in the judge’s court at a certain time and day to explain why he or she did not show up for jury service.

In most cases, the person simply forgot, Logue said. A few people will ignore the jury service summons though.

People who do not show up for jury duty can be jailed for contempt of court. However, after they attend the show-cause hearing and speak to the judge, Logue said, their service often is reassigned to a later date.

Your boss can go to jail if he threatens and/or fires you over having to serve jury duty.

TRUE

Logue said she has dealt with situations in the past where jurors’ employers were refusing to accommodate their workers’ constitutionally required service to the court.

For example, a person who works at night cannot still be required to pull a night shift even while serving on a jury during the day.

Under Kentucky law, if an employer threatens employees with termination or actually fires them because they are absent for jury duty, the workers can file a civil lawsuit for lost wages against the employer.

Also, if an employee is fired for serving on a jury, the employer can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $250 (up to $5,000 for corporations) and/or a jail sentence not exceeding 90 days.

“It’s a constitutional duty” that an employer cannot interfere with, Logue said.

Sarah Hogsed can be reached at shogsed@richmondregister.com or 624-6694.