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Jury Service in Federal Courts

Importance, History, and Constitutional Foundations of Jury Service

  • Jury service is a direct means for citizens to participate in the judicial process. Jurors make decisions that have an impact on individuals' lives, property, and liberty.
  • The jury, as an institution, has a long and distinguished history. As early as the English Magna Carta (1215), it was hailed as the protector of individual rights and liberties.
  • In the U.S. Constitution the Sixth Amendment (Archives.gov) provides for impartial jury trials in criminal cases.
  • The Fifth Amendment (Archivess.gov) guarantees the right to a grand jury indictment.
  • The Seventh Amendment (Archives.gov) provides for juries in certain civil cases.

Legal, Financial, and Personal Concerns of Prospective Jurors

  • Society considers jury duty so important to running a democracy that the failure to report to the courthouse when summoned can result in a fine and/or imprisonment.
  • The law relating to federal jury service is 28 U.S.C. SS ยงยง1861 et. seq.
  • Federal law prohibits employers from firing or taking adverse action against individuals for participating in jury service.
  • Federal law also provides a daily stipend for federal jurors and makes provisions for reimbursements for certain travel expenses.
  • Sign language interpreters are available to deaf and hearing-impaired potential jurors. Other auxiliary aides also are available.
  • In order to enhance jurors' comprehension of the issues during the trial, some courts permit jurors to take notes or submit written questions they would like the lawyers to ask witnesses.
  • Jurors must not discuss the case with anyone except fellow jurors throughout the trial process. After the trial, jurors are under no obligation to talk about their experience with others, including the media. Jurors also are not prohibited from talking about their jury experience. Each juror has a choice.

Reporting to the Right Courthouse: Federal and State Courts

  • There are two different court systems within the United States, the federal court system and the state court systems. In the federal system, there are 94 district (trial) courts, and 12 Circuit Courts of Appeals in regions across the country. In each state, there is one state court system that has courthouses in towns and cities throughout the state.
  • The federal court system hears cases based on the U.S. Constitution and statutes passed by Congress. The state court system hears cases based on state constitutions and statutes passed by state legislatures. The federal courts do not hear cases involving only state law.

What Kind of Jury: Grand Jury or Petit Jury?

  • There are two types of jury systems in the United States, the grand jury and the petit jury.
  • The grand jury consists of 23 citizens of which 16 must be present to constitute a quorum for the transaction of business. Grand jurors analyze the evidence presented by a government attorney and then decide, based on this evidence, whether to indict (charge) an individual with a crime. Twelve or more grand jurors must vote in favor of the indictment before it may be returned.
  • A petit jury is a body of six to 12 citizens, and alternate jurors, that hears a criminal or civil case and decides the facts of the case. Unless otherwise noted, the term jury refers to a petit jury.

From the Jury Pool to the Jury Box: Voir Dire

  • Not every person summoned to jury duty is selected to participate on a jury. During a process called voir dire, the trial judge and/or the lawyers for each side question potential jurors for bias.
  • Each side has a certain number of peremptory challenges and an unlimited number of challenges for cause. A peremptory challenge allows a lawyer to dismiss a potential juror for any reason. A challenge for cause allows a party to dismiss a potential juror for possible biases.

The Job of the Judge, the Job of the Jury

  • The judge and the jury have specific roles in a judicial proceeding. The judge determines the appropriate law that should be applied to the case and the jury finds the facts in the case.
  • At the end of the trial, the judge instructs the jury on the applicable law. While the jury must obey the judge's instructions as to the law, the jury alone is responsible for determining the facts of the case.

What Kind of Case: Criminal or Civil - What's the Difference?

  • There are two types of judicial proceedings in the federal courts, criminal and civil cases.
  • In a criminal trial, an individual is accused of committing an offense - a crime - against society as a whole. Criminal juries consist of 12 jurors and alternates and a unanimous decision must be reached before a defendant is found "guilty." The burden of proof is on the government and the standard is "beyond a reasonable doubt."
  • In a civil trial, litigants are seeking remedies for private wrongs that don't, necessarily, have a broader social impact. Civil juries must consist of at least six jurors and the verdict must be unanimous unless the parties stipulate otherwise. The standard of proof is a "preponderance of the evidence," or "more true than not." Not all civil cases are heard by jurors; some are conducted before a judge.
  • Guilty pleas and plea negotiations reduce the need for juries in criminal cases, and settlement negotiations reduce the need for juries in civil cases. Negotiations and settlements are effective avenues the courts and the parties use to arrive at justice.