- Do I have to respond to the summons to jury service?
Yes. The summons to jury service is an official court summons. If you do not respond, you could be held in contempt of court.
- How long will I be in jury service?
Jurors serve one term of court. Depending on where you live, your term may be up to 4 months. Your summons will indicate the length and exact dates of the term you will serve.
- How was I chosen for Jury Service?
In May of each year the Supreme Court of Virginia, Office of Management Information Systems, sends out Jury Questionnaires to 5,000 perspective jurors in the City of Salem. This list is generated from Voter Registration and DMV Records of Citizens who reside in the City of Salem. These questionnaires are returned to the Circuit Court Clerk for the City of Salem.
On July 1 of each year, three Jury Commissioners who are appointed by the presiding Judge of the Circuit Court review the returned questionnaires. The presiding Judge decides the number of potential jurors to choose from for the year, this number is 1,200 at the present time. The Jury Commissioners must return the list of potential jurors to the Clerk of the Circuit Court by December 15th.
The list of potential jurors is then sent to the Management Information Systems Office for the City of Salem. This Office then places the names on a computer diskette, which contains a program to further randomize the list. The computer diskette is then sent back to the Clerk of the Circuit Court. The Clerk then places the information from the diskette into the court's computer system. Each term of the Circuit Court, the judge pushes a button on the computer, which causes the computer to select 105 potential jurors for each term of court. During high-profile court cases, more names may be selected.
Each year 80 Grand Jurors are selected for service using the same system as discussed above.
Men and women over the age of 18 years and from all walks of life have an equal opportunity to be called for jury service.
- How will I know what to expect and what to do during my jury service?
You will go through an orientation program the first time you are required to report for jury duty. The orientation will inform you of the procedures for checking in on days you must report to the courthouse, how to find out when to report, what the court's hours are, and what to do if you have an emergency during jury service. Additionally, you will learn about your role as a juror and what you should and should not do while in the courthouse or serving on jury duty.
- I have heard that sometimes jurors are not allowed to go home until after the trial is over. Will this happen to me?
Usually, jurors go home at the end of each day and return the next morning. However, in extremely rare cases, a jury will be "sequestered" during the trial or during jury deliberations. Sequestered means that instead of going home at the end of the day, jurors stay in hotels, where their access to other people, radio news, television news, and newspapers is limited. This is done to keep them from accidentally hearing something about the trial that was not told in court or from being influenced by news reports. This is important because juries must reach their decisions based only on what they've heard during the trial. In almost all Virginia jury trials, however, the jury goes home at the end of each day and is simply told by the judge not to discuss the case with anyone, nor to watch, read or listen to news reports about the case. It is essential that you follow these instructions.
- Is there anything I can do to make my jury service more comfortable, convenient and enjoyable?
Certainly. While efforts are made to reduce delay and avoid waiting time, you may have to wait a while at the courthouse before you find out whether you have been chosen to actually sit on a jury (the reasons why are explained in the next section). So bring a book, or some other quiet activity, or get to know your fellow jurors. Remember that as a juror, you are a vital part of the court system. Part of the job of many court employees, such as the bailiffs and the clerks, is to help make your jury service comfortable and convenient. Do not be afraid to ask them for help.
- What about my Job?
Your employer can not fine, demote or otherwise penalize you for missing work while performing jury service. Many employers will continue to pay your salary while you are in jury service. Contact your employer to find out what the policy is at your job.
- What if an unexpected emergency keeps me from coming to the courthouse while I'm on a jury?
It is very important that all jurors report each day they are told to report and that they be on time. Your absence may delay a trial. If you have an emergency (such as sudden illness or death in the family), call the number on your summons immediately.
- What if I can't perform jury service right now?
Your term of jury service might disturb your regular pattern of work and other activities. If this disruption causes you genuine hardship and not just inconvenience, it may be possible for you to defer your service to another time. However, this is done only in cases of genuine hardship or need. The judge decides whether your jury service can be deferred. If you feel that you can not perform your jury service, call the number listed on your summons to discuss your situation.
You will not be excused because jury service is inconvenient or because you have a busy schedule, but you may be excused for reasons such as physical ailments. If you have special conflicts on particular days during the term, the court may excuse you on those days.
- Will I be reimbursed for serving on a jury?
You will be reimbursed $30 per day for attendance for each day you must report to the courthouse. The Virginia General Assembly sets this amount.
- How are juries chosen in a criminal case?
The procedure for criminal cases is very similar to the procedure for civil cases. However, 20 prospective jurors are called for a felony trial, and the final jury will have 12 members. For a misdemeanor case, the final jury will have seven members. (The difference between a felony and a misdemeanor case is described in the next section.)
- How are jurors chosen to sit on a jury in a civil case?
When a trial is ready to begin, the bailiff calls potential jurors into the courtroom. If damages of less than $15,000 are claimed in the case, 11 jurors will be called. If damages of more than $15,000 are claimed, 13 jurors will be called. The clerk or bailiff asks potential jurors to stand, hold up their right hand, and swear or affirm that they will truthfully answer the questions about to be asked of them. The judge will then tell you the names of the parties and their attorneys and briefly explain the nature of the case. The judge will ask if you are related to anyone involved in the case, have any financial or other interest in the outcome of the case, have formed or expressed an opinion or have any personal bias or prejudice that might affect how you decide the case. If you do not think you can make a fair and impartial decision for any reason, you should tell the judge at this time.
The attorneys for each side might also ask you some questions. If the judge concludes that you may not be able to make a fair decision, you will be asked to step down, and another prospective juror will be brought in to replace you. After the judge decides that all potential jurors are qualified to fairly and impartially hear the case, the clerk will compile a list of jurors and give it to the attorneys. Each side will remove three names from the list. They do not have to give a reason for removing these names. If the amount claimed is under $15,000, the final jury will have 5 members. If the claim is more than $15,000, the jury will have 7 members. The remaining jurors then swear or affirm that they will hear the case and give a verdict they believe to be true. The trial is ready to begin.
- Is it possible that I might report for jury service but not sit on a jury?
Yes. The parties involved in a case generally seek to settle their differences and avoid the expense and time of a trial. Sometimes the case is settled just a few moments before the trial begins. So even though several trials are scheduled for a certain day, the court does not know until that morning how many will actually go to trial. But your time spent waiting is not wasted - your very presence in the court encourages settlement.
- What are alternate jurors?
Sometimes, when the judge believes that a case is likely to last more than a day or two, additional jurors will be chosen from those summoned for jury duty, questioned, and challenged like other prospective jurors. The additional jurors are chosen to avoid having to retry the case should one or more jurors be excused from the jury during the trial for an emergency (such as illness), leaving too few jurors to decide the case. Throughout the trial, all jurors will sit together, paying careful attention to all the evidence. After the closing argument and before the jury retires to the jury room to decide the case, the judge will excuse from further jury duty enough jurors to reduce the number of jurors to the statutory number needed to decide the case.
- Why are some jurors removed from the list?
Allowing both sides to participate in selecting the jury gives the parties the opportunity to feel that the jury will be fair and impartial when it decides the case. Being excused from a jury in no way reflects on your character or your competence as a juror, so you should not feel offended or embarrassed if your name is removed.
- Can I talk to anyone about the trial while it is going on?
No. As long as the trial is still going on, do not discuss the trial with anyone. Do not even discuss the case with your fellow jurors until you begin your deliberations. When the trial is over, you can discuss it with anyone if you want to, or you may keep silent if you prefer.
- Can I watch news reports of the trial or read newspaper accounts of it?
No, not as long as the trial is still going on.
- How are criminal cases tried?
Criminal cases are very similar to civil cases, except instead of a plaintiff, there is a prosecuting attorney. The prosecuting attorney may represent either the Commonwealth (the state) or a city, county, or town.
- What if I accidentally hear something about the trial outside the courtroom, or if someone contacts me about the trial while it is still going on?
Ask the bailiff to tell the judge immediately what has happened. Tell no one about the incident, except the bailiff or the judge.
- What if I need a break during the trial?
Jurors are given lunch breaks and may be given other breaks during a trial. If it is absolutely necessary that you take a break for some other reason at any time during the trial, tell the bailiff or the judge. But note that these requests are highly unusual and should be made only if absolutely necessary.
- What are Jury Instructions?
Jury instructions tell the jury what the laws are that govern a particular case. Each attorney gives the judge a set of proposed jury instructions. The judge considers each instruction and gives the one that properly states the law that applies to the case. The jurors must accept and follow the law as instructed by the judge, even though they may have a different idea about what the law is or ought to be.
- What are my responsibilities now that I'm part of a jury?
In any trial, two kinds of questions will have to be decided at various times. These are questions of law and questions of fact. The judge decides the questions of law. You decide the questions of fact. After you have decided on the questions of fact, you will apply the law to the facts as directed by the judge at the end of the trial.
- What are the two types of criminal cases?
There are two kinds of criminal cases: Felonies and Misdemeanors. A felony offense is one that can be punished by death or by a prison sentence of a year or more. If the felony offense is one that can be punished by death, it is called a capital offense. If the maximum punishment allowed by law is less than one year in confinement or only a fine, the offense is called a misdemeanor.
- What happens during a civil trial?
After the clerk or bailiff has sworn in the jury, the case is ready to begin. Both attorneys may make opening statements explaining their client's position and outlining the evidence they expect to present that will support their claims. These statements are not evidence and should not be considered as such. The witnesses for the plaintiff are then called and questioned by the attorney for the plaintiff and cross-examined by the attorney for the defendant. After cross-examination, the plaintiff's attorney may reexamine some of the witnesses. After all the plaintiff's witnesses have been called and all the plaintiff's evidence has been presented, the attorney will tell the judge that the plaintiff rests.
Witnesses for the defendant may then be called. This time, the defendant's attorney questions the witnesses and the plaintiff's attorney cross-examines them. When all the defendant's witnesses and evidence have been presented, the defense will rest. After the defendant has finished, the plaintiff has the right to offer testimony in reply.
The judge and the attorneys will then go to the judge's chambers to consider the instructions the judge will give the jurors about the law of the case (this is discussed below). After the judge has decided on the instructions, the judge and the attorneys will return to the courtroom. The judge reads the jury instructions to the jury, and then the attorneys make their closing arguments. The closing arguments let each attorney tell the jury what they think the evidence proves and why their client should win. These closing arguments may help jurors recall many details of the case, but they are not evidence. The plaintiff's attorney speaks first, followed by the defendant's attorney. Finally, the plaintiff's attorney speaks again and closes the case.
- What is a "question of fact"?
Quite simply, it is deciding what really happened in a case. Do not be surprised if the evidence given by both sides is conflicting or if the testimony given by one witness contradicts another. After all, if everyone was in agreement about what happened and what should be done about it, the dispute probably would not be in court, and a jury probably would not be needed. Your job is to listen to all the testimony, consider all the evidence, and decide what you think really happened.
- What is a "question of law"?
Questions of law involve the determination of what the law is. They may be about procedural matters (what information can be admitted as evidence, what kind of questions can be asked, which witnesses can appear, and what can they testify about). Or they may involve questions of substantive law, which create, define, and regulate the rights of parties.
- What should I do when testimony is stricken from the record?
You must disregard that testimony. Sometimes the jury hears testimony that the judge later decides it should not have heard. The judge will tell the jury to consider the case as if it had never heard it. You must follow the judge's instructions if the parties in the case are to receive a fair trial.
- Who awards damages in a civil case?
In a civil case, the jury not only decides on a verdict for one side or the other but also awards damages. That is, if the jury determines that an award of money should be made, the jury decides how much money should be paid.
- Who else will be in the courtroom? What will they be doing?
A number of people will be in the courtroom besides the judge, the jury, and the attorneys. The list below explains who they are and what they will be doing.
- Plaintiff (civil case)- In a civil case, the person who brought the case to court is called the plaintiff.
- Defendant (civil case)- The person being sued in a civil case is called the defendant.
- Defendant (criminal case)- A person who has been charged with a crime is the defendant in a criminal case.
- Attorneys or council - Attorneys representing the plaintiff, defendant, or the government in a criminal case are also referred to as counsel. Depending on who they represent and what court you are in, you may hear them called "council for the plaintiff", "plaintiff's attorney", "counsel for the defendant", or "defense attorney". An attorney representing the government in a criminal case is called the prosecuting or Commonwealth's attorney.
- Court Reporter- The court reporter keeps the official record by recording every word spoken during the trial.
- Bailiff- The bailiff keeps order, maintains the security of the court, and helps the judge and the jury as needed.
- Clerk of Court- The clerk of court, also called the clerk, maintains the court files and preserves the evidence presented during the trial. The clerk may also administer the oaths to jurors and witnesses.
- Witnesses- Each side in a trial will probably have a number of witnesses who have information about the dispute. Very often the judge will ask them to wait outside the courtroom until it is their turn to testify. This is done so they will not hear each other's testimony and be influenced by it.
- Who sets the punishment in a criminal case?
If the jury finds the defendant guilty in a criminal case, they set the punishment at the same time they decide the verdict. After a guilty verdict in a capital case, however, the jury will hear evidence in a separate proceeding before deciding on the penalty.
- Why do the attorneys object to certain statements or evidence?
An important part of an attorney's job is to protect the client's rights during a trial. This includes making sure that the only evidence presented during the trial is evidence that is proper, relevant, and allowed by law. So if the evidence is submitted that the attorney feels is improper, or if the attorney feels that the other side is asking questions that are unlawful, the attorney will call out, "Objection!" By doing this, the attorney is asking the judge to rule on whether the law allows that particular piece of evidence or statement or question to be admitted. If the judge thinks it should be admitted, the judge will say, "Objection Overruled" or just "Overruled". If the judge agrees that the evidence in question is improper, the judge will say, "Objection Sustained". How often an attorney raises objections during the trial should not bias you against that attorney's case.
- Why is the jury sometimes asked to leave the courtroom in the middle of a trial?
The judge may decide to send the jury from the courtroom in the middle of a trial. While the jury is gone, the attorneys and the judge will discuss points of law or whether certain evidence can be admitted. The purpose of these discussions is to make sure that the jury hears only the evidence that is legally valid before making its decision. You will be called back to the courtroom when the judge's decision is made.
- Do we all have to agree?
Yes. Every juror must agree on the verdict. This is known as a unanimous verdict.
- How should we conduct our deliberations?
Each juror may have a different opinion at the start of the deliberations. To reach a decision, some jurors may have to change their opinion. You should keep an open mind; listen carefully to other people's opinions, and the reasons for their opinions. You should be prepared to tell the other jurors what you think and why you think it. Be fair and carefully consider what your fellow jurors are saying. Do not let yourself be intimidated into changing your opinion, and do not intimidate anyone else. Change your opinion only if you genuinely agree with what another juror is saying. After a full discussion of the issues, the jury should be able to reach a decision that each juror can agree to with a clear conscience.
- What happens after the closing arguments?
After the judge gives you your instructions and you hear the attorneys' closing arguments, you leave the courtroom and go to the jury room to begin your deliberations. "Deliberation" is the process the jury uses to reach its verdict. During deliberations, the jury will discuss evidence and review the law and facts.
- What if we do not understand the jury instructions?
You may take written copies of the jury instructions to the jury room with you. If you do not understand the instructions, you may ask the judge to explain them to you. It is usually best to put your questions in writing and ask the bailiff to give them to the judge since the judge will discuss the questions with the attorneys before answering them.
- What is the first thing we do?
The first thing you should do is elect one member of the jury to preside over the deliberations, seeing that everyone has an opportunity to participate and that the discussions remain orderly. The person chosen to preside takes part in the deliberations and votes on the verdict along with everyone else.
- What should we do after we have reached our verdict?
The person chosen to preside will write down the jury's verdict on a form prepared by the judge, sign it, and notify the bailiff that a verdict has been reached. The bailiff will notify the judge, who will call everyone, including the jury, back to the courtroom. The clerk or judge will ask for the jury's verdict and read it out loud. The judge will then ask the attorneys if they wish to have the jury polled. "Polling a jury", means that the clerk will ask each juror individually if this is their verdict, and each juror must answer out loud. After the verdict and decision on award or punishment is announced, the judge will dismiss the jury.
- Will anyone be in the jury room besides the jury?
No. But if you have any questions or need any help, the bailiff will be nearby.