What is Jury Duty? Learn About Leave, Pay, and More
You have probably watched a movie or TV show regarding some trial or the involvement of the courtroom.
There you have probably noticed some people sitting on the sides of the room itself.
As the trial goes on, the evidence is presented and after a while Judge asks those same people what is their final verdict.
They give one and the judge either agrees or adds his own voice to correct it.
If you are from Europe, this justice system is probably familiar to you only from this type of movies, since this represents the justice system used mostly in the USA, which functions on a different basis than its European counterpart.
In this text, we will go over the basics of what the jury duty is, who can be elected as a member of a jury and how does jury duty affect people who are already employed.
WHAT IS JURY DUTY?
A jury is a group of people selected by the state to listen to the trial and give their final verdict of whether the accused is guilty or not.
It is a great responsibility to be a member of the jury because in some cases their decision can make a huge impact on someone’s life.
Whether we talk about guilty or innocent people, it is not an easy decision to make, and that is why not everyone can be part of the jury.
There are several types of the jury, so let us get into it.
1. Petit or Small Jury
This is the most common type of jury that you had probably heard of before.
Usually, it consists of 12 members and their main responsibility is to listen to the lawyers and witnesses of both the defendant and the accuser and take all the evidence into account.
After that is done, the judge will call for a rest so the jury can debate and make a decision.
During that rest time, jury members need to decide and agree among themselves if the defendant is guilty or not guilty.
Their decision can be both unanimous or only the majority of votes are needed, depending on the type of the trial.
In most criminal trials, their decision has to be unanimous, which means that all 12 members of the jury have to agree about the same decision.
In case they cannot agree on a verdict, then it is called the hung jury.
2. Grand Jury
Nowadays the Grand jury usually exists mostly in Federal courts and it is used to examine all the evidence for criminal trials and deciding if there is enough of it to push the trial forward. It is usually larger than Petit jury.
The important thing is that this type of jury can work without knowledge of the accused.
It is also used to examine some evidence prior to someone’s arrest and to determine whether that evidence is sufficient to make an arrest.
3. Coroner’s Jury
As you probably already know, coroners are state officials whose job is to determine the cause of death whenever a suspicious death happens or whenever they are asked to do it by the police or federal institutions.
Coroners can ask the court to assemble the Coroner’s jury, which is used to boost the public confidence in the evidence submitted by the coroner.
This usually happens in high profile cases, like the murder of police officers.
WHO CAN BE SELECTED FOR JURY DUTY?
Serving as a juror is considered as a great honor in the United States.
But, as we had already mentioned, not everyone can be selected to perform jury duty.
There are several rules and factors which state officials consider when they perform the choosing process.
So let us go over it and see who can be selected for jury duty, shall we?
There are slight differences between different states, but these are the general requirements needed in every state.
- Only people over 18 years old qualify for a position of a juror;
- Only registered residents of a state can perform jury duty;
- A person can perform jury duty only in its place of residence, which means in the state they live;
- Their English proficiency should be high enough to fill in needed forms;
- Previously convicted people cannot be part of the jury;
- A person needs to be both mentally and physically able to perform the jury duty.
Now, when you see the second point on this list, you may ask why do you often see US immigrants as members of a jury?
Well, it is quite simple.
Most of them do have a driver’s license, hence they are being viewed as registered residents.
However, they can evade being selected by proving that they are not in fact registered, by showing their immigration documentation, passport or just their green card.
All of these rules may seem quite strict, but there are valid reasons why it is done this way.
This short video explains what are the main qualifications needed for a juror and how the members of the jury are selected.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO AVOID JURY DUTY?
Being a jury is a great honor for every citizen, but it also comes with a risk.
There are stories of some jury members whose family lives were threatened by the third party in order to influence their vote.
Although those are mostly stories, we all know that most stories are based on true events.
This alone can induce fear into some people so they would try to avoid their jury duty.
Once selected for jury duty, it is not recommended to try to avoid it, because it is punishable by law.
Once selected, you must show up on a trial, otherwise, you may face not just financial, but also jail punishment in the most severe cases.
Fines for avoiding jury duty varies from city to city, from state to state. They usually go from $200 up to $2.000.
The other way to punish people is to give them negative points.
For example, if you have avoided jury duty and sometimes in the future you get pulled up for speeding, you would not just get speeding ticket, but you might be sent to jail for avoiding jury duty too.
So it is not recommended to avoid jury duty, unless absolutely necessary.
Of course, the state does have an understanding if the person really cannot come to the trial, because of harsh living conditions or indisposed family relative.
In that case, those people are not obligated to come.
Another way of avoiding the jury duty is by deferring.
You can send a mail where you state your reasons for which you cannot show up at the trial and suggest a date on which you would be able to come.
When it comes to the people who have their own jobs, what do you think happens when they are called to join the jury? Do they get free days and do their employers have right not to pay them for that day or days in some cases?
This situation can cause some stress among both employers and employees because one needs his employees to do the required work and latter needs to work to get some money.
Luckily, the law clearly defines all these things.
It is stated that if employees are called to perform their jury duty, the employer must give them a day off.
In that case, the employee would be able to go to the court and there, apart from performing their duties, one of the two things could happen.
First is that sometimes jury members get dismissed early, which means that jurors would be free during the day. In that case, they could go back to work if it is possible.
Another thing is that sometimes, there are very difficult and long cases, so the jury has to come to the multiple court sessions, which is, of course, not so popular thing among employers, because some trials could last for months.
WHAT DOES JURY DUTY LEAVE MEAN?
When employees are called to do their jury duty, they usually get a leave of absence from the work, so they could perform their civic duty and attend the court.
That leave of absence is called Jury duty leave and it can be both paid and unpaid, depending on the length of the process.
The law states that every employer has to allow his employees to do their jury duty, otherwise employer himself could get punished.
Sometimes that could be a problem, especially in those months, which are very important for the company’s business.
In that case, the employer is allowed to write a complaint and send it to the court, and the court would then decide if that complaint is valid and, if needed, release the employees of their jury duty until they are free to do it.
DOES EMPLOYEE GET PAID?
As already mentioned above, jury duty leave can be paid and unpaid.
The only common thing is that employers are forced to give time off the work to any employee who is invited to do jury duty.
As court trials can take a long time, it wouldn’t be fair to ask employers to keep paying their employees for such a long time even if they are in no ability to work full hours because of their jury duty.
That is why law defines rates and conditions for both employers and employees.
These laws are not universal for each state, which means they vary from one state to another.
Laws in some states have policies that clearly define the amount of paid days employee could get for performing jury duty.
If that limit is crossed, then the state itself pays a certain amount of money to the jury members, depending on different factors, like their own salaries.
All of this depends on the state itself because different states have different laws.
States usually leave managing this up to the companies, so they have to make valid policies on jury duty.
When doing this, they need to take into the account what the laws in that state say, whether it is mandatory for employers to pay the full amount or whether the state pays some percentage of the amount needed.
That amount varies from state to state, but it is usually the number of money employees would have earned if they had been working instead of being on jury duty.
In some states, the law clearly says that employer must cover those expenses and that employers are not allowed to reduce that amount. It also depends on the actual type of work.
People who work for the government institutions and those who work in a private sector have different types of employers, thus, the law defines slightly different actions for those groups.
We will present some of the results of the study conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
The results show that out of all people who are employed in a state government sector, around 92% of those people get their payment for jury duty leave, which is a really astonishing number.
It is a slightly different situation for people who are employed in a local government sector. Around 88% of them get their payment for jury duty leave.
As for the people who work for the Federal government, all of them get their normal salaries even during jury duty leave, which is understandable, since they are working for the highest level of the government.
Private Sector Employees
When we talk about the employees who work in the private sector, the situation is not so good as it is in the government sector.
The situation there is that only 68% of the employees get their payment for jury duty leave.
This number varies and it is not fixed for all jobs in the private sector.
It mostly depends on the job itself, whether it is highly paid or not.
The title is also very important, which means that important people who are doing some jobs that are considered prestigious, probably get paid for their jury duty leave.
On the other side, there are jobs that are classified lower on the list, so on those jobs, there is a higher chance of people not getting paid for their jury duty leave.
WHAT EMPLOYERS CAN AND CAN’T DO?
Having to pay for jury duty leave for your employees can be frustrating, especially during the peak months of the business season, when the employers tend to earn the most money.
But, it is something that must be done, because the laws clearly state it and rejecting it could potentially mean financial punishment.
So let us explore what employers can and cannot do in this situation.
When their employees get an invitation to join jury duty, employers are put in a difficult position, because they usually have to allow paid jury duty leave to the employee in question, which is just one more expense for the company itself.
But, since it is defined by law, it is something which has to be done, whether employers like it or not.
There are two things employers are definitely not allowed to do in this situation.
- Employers are not allowed to fire the employees because they got invited to join the jury – since jury duty is a mandatory civic duty, by terminating the employment contract, employers would break not just moral codex of the nation, but also the law itself, set by the constitution.
- Employers are not allowed to exploit and threaten their employees – the situation is the same as with the previous Mandatory civic duties must be performed, so if employees feel threatened and feel like their job is in jeopardy, they can with all rights sue their employer.
As the Federal law states that employers do not have to give full salary to the employees whose jury duty leave is longer than it is stated in the jury duty policy, they still need to do something, which is very important for both employee and the company itself.
By following these simple obligations, employers can make good jury duty leave policy, which doesn’t have to hurt the company too much.
- Employers are obligated to allow leave of absence to employees who are called to perform their jury duty – As we have already mentioned, this is not up to debate. The law clearly states that it must be done, so every employer has to accept it. They need to let the employees perform their duties for as long as it is needed.
- Employers are obligated to keep paying the employee’s insurance – It is mandatory to do it during the period they are out on jury Apart from insurance, some other benefits are included too.
- Employers are obligated to reinstate the employees to their old position – In case that court process takes longer, employers usually tend to find some replacement until their employee is back from the jury duty. But after employees are back, then need to be reinstated to the position they had before without losing any benefits.
By following these simple rules, the person who is in charge of making jury duty leave policy for the company can create a good policy, which would allow that jury duty has really minimal impact on the way company is conducting business.
It would benefit both the company and the employees, since they will feel much safer, knowing that their company is responsible and that it is willing to protect its employees.
That way, they would accept their jury duty invitation with more ease and would be able to clear their heads and focus on what is really important when it comes to the jury duty, since members of a jury are not there to hang around, but to do serious things, because each and every decision they make could affect the lives of every person who is standing in front of them in that courtroom.
That is why it is important for them to keep their heads cool and focus on evidence that lawyers present and testimonies witnesses make, so they could make a rational decision, that would be very satisfying to everyone.
More importantly, that rational decision should not just be satisfying, but should also be right.
Putting the right criminal behind bars or saving the innocent person from the claws of prison. Those are two very different things.
WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO AS A JUROR?
Since we went over the whole process of getting to the jury seat, now it is the time to tell you what would you have to do if you get there yourself.
The first step is to take an oath. Same as with everyone else who comes to the court to testify, members of the jury have to take an oath as well.
Of course, they swear that they will consider all the evidence presented to them by attorneys, that they will follow all instructions given by the judge and that they will eventually reach a verdict that is both right and fair towards everyone present.
Next important thing to remember is that members of a jury are not allowed to talk about the case to anyone while the trial is in progress.
Not even amongst themselves.
Apart from that, they should avoid reading about the case they are on since negative propaganda could cloud their judgment regarding the verdict.
Following that, members of the jury are not allowed to make assumptions about the case and can only use the evidence presented to them in order to reach the final verdict.
All outside factors are not to be considered.
Now that we have presented everything you need to know if you get jury duty invitation yourself, you are ready to do your duty as a member of a jury.
Remember all those rules and you will not have problems doing it.
In fact, you might find out that you quite enjoy being a member of a jury.