Remember a few years back when our former President, George W. Bush was summoned as a potential juror? Well, luckily for him (and, am sure to the great relief of the secret service), he was not picked as a juror.
The presence of a jury in a criminal case is required as per the 6th Amendment of the U.S. constitution, which protects the right of a defendant to:
- A public trial
- A speedy trial
- A trial in front of an impartial jury from the district and state in which the crime was committed
Why a jury?
The law does not exist in a vacuum. Crimes committed affect everyday people and society and having a jury is a way of putting the process into the people’s hands by allowing them to participate in the administration of justice, instead of leaving everything to one person, the judge.
A jury also gives the defendant a chance to get a free and fair trial, as they tried by a jury of their peers.
Courts in Texas and types of juries
There are several courts in Texas. These are;
- Municipal Courts
- Justice of the peace courts
- The statutory probate court
- The statutory county courts at Law
- Constitutional County Courts
- District courts
All these courts in the Texas judicial system permit jury trials. Therefore, a Texas citizen can be summoned for jury duty in any of these courts.
Different types of juries
There are different types of juries. They differ based on the case being heard.
– Trial Jury
Also referred to as a Petit jury, a trial jury consists of 6 -12 people.
A trial jury decides the verdict in a criminal case. The jurors in the panel have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant is guilty of a crime.
Before they give a verdict, members of a trial jury look at the evidence presented in court by the prosecution and defense. They then deliberate a verdict in private and submit it to the court.
– Civil jury
A civil jury usually has less than 12 jurors. These jurors do not sit in on criminal cases. They participate in civil cases where one person files a complaint against another for personal injury or property damages.
Civil court proceedings do not involve family proceedings such as divorce or child custody proceedings. A civil case only requires 5/6th of the juror panel to agree on a verdict to settle the case.
A jury doesn’t need to sit in on a civil case. If the parties involved waive their right to a jury, the case can be heard by the judge only.
– Grand jury
A grand jury sits in federal criminal cases and is made up of 16 – 23 people.
Proceedings of a grand jury are private, with the attorneys and defendants not in attendance
A grand jury determines whether there is probable cause that will allow a case to go on trial.
Requirements for jury duty in Texas
While jury duty is considered an honor, it is not a voluntary commitment. Members of a jury are selected by a computer process and summons sent to them to appear in court.
To qualify for jury duty selection, one must be;
- A citizen of United States
- At least 18 years old
- A resident of the county where he /she is expected to serve as a juror
- Of good moral character and sound mind
In Texas, you cannot participate in a jury if;
– You have been convicted of a felony, are facing criminal charges or are under indictment for a felony
– You have been convicted of theft, are facing charges for theft or are under indictment for any type of theft
Can you get out of jury duty?
Regardless of how honorable jury duty is, some people do not want or are prevented by circumstances from participating. Still, it is a national duty enforced by law and many judges are strict about it.
Do not be tempted to listen to Homer Simpson..Officially, a judge can only excuse you from jury duty if;
- You cannot understand or speak English
- You have served in another jury panel in the last 2-3 years
- You have legal custody of a minor that you cannot leave unsupervised
- You are the sole caretaker of someone that cannot take care of themselves
- You have a physical or mental impairment that will hinder your ability to participate fully in jury duty
- You are in active military duty serving away from home
- You are attending school or classes in an institute of higher learning
- You are over 70 years old
Unless you have legal reasons to reject a jury summons, you cannot say no or ignore the summons. Failure to answer a jury summons attracts a fine.
Other ways to get out of jury duty
Apart from the above legal reasons to get out of jury duty summons, there are other ways to excuse yourself from jury service. You can ask to get off jury duty if;
- You are physically or emotionally ill or are recovering from a medical procedure. Such claims must be supported by a doctor’s note as proof.
- If you are in school and have a full course load that cannot allow you to attend court proceedings
- Where you are close in some way to the defendant, for example, you are a relation, or you have prior knowledge of him or her that will affect your judgment.
- You are expectant and are undergoing a difficult pregnancy, are in your last trimester, or have to take care of a newborn.
- If you are likely to face economic hardship as a result of attending court duties. For example, where missing work will affect your income and the court stipend cannot cover all your needs.
- If you cannot be impartial in the case because you have strong opinions on issues associated with it. For example, you are against guns and are being asked to sit in on an accidental shooting case. Or where you have a bias against law officers
- Where you have served as a juror in the same year. You should only be called in for jury duty once a year.
- Where your partner is in jail. The court does not allow jurors that have romantic relationships with convicts to serve on a jury panel.
If all else fails, remember that you can always postpone jury duty for up to six months after being summoned.