Jury service is one of the most direct ways the average citizen can participate in the workings of government. Some have even changed careers after serving as a jury member.
Without you, the jury system cannot work the way the authors of the Constitution envisioned. Yet jury service means rearranging schedules, canceling appointments, and oftentimes missing work. But if you were on trial, wouldn't you want someone like you to make the sacrifices necessary to be a part of your jury? Your public service as a juror helps ensure the right to trial by jury for all Americans.
You do not need any special skills or legal knowledge to be a juror. You do need to keep an open mind and be willing to make decisions free of personal feelings and biases.
You are qualified for jury service if you:
- Are a U.S. citizen
- Are 18 years or older
- Have sufficient knowledge of English
- Are a resident of the county that summoned you or you are eligible to vote in California.
- Have not served on a jury within the last 12 months
- Are not currently serving on a grand jury or trial jury
- Are not under a conservatorship
- Have had your civil rights restored, if they were previously restricted
The courts want to make jury service as manageable as possible for you while still ensuring the availability of jurors for jury trials. One way of doing this is the "one-day or one trial" system. It works like this: you are summoned and appear at the courthouse at the designated time. If you are not selected for a jury that day, you are excused and you have satisfied your obligation for at least a year. Or, if you are selected for a jury, service in that trial satisfies you obligation for at least a year. The idea is to minimize the inconvenience of jury service, but the system works only if citizens like you honor their duty and the law and respond to the court's summons.
Most courts use driver-license lists and voter lists to issue summonses. If in the past 12 months you have already responded to a summons or have already served, please notify the jury staff or your local court.
If business or personal matters make it impossible to serve on a particular date, you may request a postponement. Procedures vary, so consult the jury professionals at your local court to request postponement.
The judge may excuse qualified jurors who face undue hardships such as an extreme financial burden, transportation problems, physical or mental disability impairment, or an obligation to provide care for another person. If you are called for jury selection, the judge will explain the process of requesting an excuse in more detail.
You don't need to speak perfect English to serve as a juror. The work done by the courts affects all people and all communities, so people from all communities should be represented.
Jurors are paid a modest stipend of $15 per day starting on the second day of service. Under state law, jurors are also reimbursed at least 15 cents per mile, one way, for jury service. Ask your local jury office for more specific information about its reimbursement procedure.
The length of the trial depends on how complex the issues are and how long jurors spend on deliberations. Most trials are completed within a few days or a week. The judge can tell approximately how long a trial should last when your group is called for jury selection. Judges are aware that long trials can be difficult and will discuss this with potential jurors. Please be patient during the process. Many of your fellow jurors will have similar concerns.
The judge serves as the court's presiding officer and as the final authority on the law. The lawyers act as advocates for their sides of the case. As a juror, you will listen to opening statements and closing arguments for both sides. You will also learn about and weigh the evidence that has been collected for the trial. You will talk over the case with the other jurors during deliberations. Then you will be asked to make a decision about the case.
The trial process includes:
- Jury selection
- The trial--opening statements, presentation of evidence, closing arguments, jury instructions
- Jury deliberations
By law, your employer must allow you time off to serve on a jury—jury service is that important. Section 230(a) of the California Labor Code is intended to prevent an employer from firing or harassing an employee who is summoned for jury service and who has given reasonable notice of the time needed to serve. Notice is generally considered "reasonable" if it is given as soon as possible after the employee is summoned. Although state law does not require employers to continue paying the salaries of employees who are absent because of jury service, many employers do.