It’s in Your Court: Thank you, jurors


Judge Steve Halsey

In May we celebrate Juror Appreciation Week in Minnesota’s courts. Judges and court administrators are keenly aware of the additional financial stresses that may accompany jury duty. Therefore, we express our thanks to our jurors of the past year. 

In recognition that many readers may never have been called to jury duty, this is a re-issue of an article I wrote in September 2007. So, you picked up your mail and found an official-looking letter from your local district court administrator. You open the envelope and discover that you have been summoned for jury duty. What is your initial reaction?

1. Excitement: Good for you! You may have been a voter or holder of a drivers’ license or State Identification Card for years, but have never been called to jury duty until now.  You feel that jury duty is your responsibility as an American and Minnesota citizen. You recall hearing in high school civics class that over the last two centuries Americans in hundreds of thousands have died in the fields, in the skies and on the shores of Europe, Asia, and elsewhere to preserve our freedoms, including the right to stand in judgment of our peers as a juror.

2. Dread:  My employer is going to be upset! There is no one else to do my job. It’s my busiest time of year. Who else is going to care for my daycare children?   have too much to do! These are all understandable first reactions. If someone called to jury duty has a commitment that they simply cannot change, such as medical treatment or a scheduled trip, they can request the court administrator to schedule their jury duty at another time.  For example, a teacher may be able to serve in the summer or a farmer during the winter months. Under Minnesota law employers must release jurors from work for jury duty, and employers cannot discipline employees for serving on a jury. However, employers are not required to pay employees for lost time at work for jury duty. Self-employed persons are not automatically excused from jury duty.

3. Bewilderment: You are pleased to serve on a jury, but have questions about what will happen. As a juror you will watch a videotape telling you about the basics of jury duty.  This information is also available on the state court website at www.mncourts.gov/?page=319. Many citizens called to jury duty will not be randomly called to the panel or may be excused by the judge and lawyers. Many jury trials are no longer than 5 days and do not involve jurors being sequestered in a hotel during deliberations, other than complex civil litigation or very serious criminal trials.  Direct any questions to court staff.

Currently jurors are paid a daily fee of $20 plus mileage. Jurors not employed outside the home are also eligible for daycare reimbursement if their children are usually not in daycare.  Questions regarding compensation may be addressed to your court administrator.

Many judicial districts and counties have websites with basic juror information. In general, jury service includes the following:

• Hours: Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. except during deliberations at the end of the trial.

• Parking: Provided by the Court. Inquire of court staff if you want details.

• Decorum: Appropriate attire, no use of tobacco products, and no cell phone use except outside of the courthouse. In some counties cell phones are requested to be left in the juror’s vehicle. Ask whether you can bring water into the courtroom.

• Waiting: There can be long waits to be called for service or during the judge’s discussions with the lawyers. Magazines, playing cards, puzzles, and generic videos (travel, nature) may help you pass the time. Most courthouses do not permit internet access.

• Breaks and meals: Generally the court will take a mid-morning and mid-afternoon recess of 15-minutes and you will have an hour or longer for lunch on your own. Meals will be provided by the court only during deliberations.

The Minnesota Constitution guarantees all Minnesotans the right to a jury trial. A jury summons cannot be ignored regardless of one’s financial circumstances. Minnesota Statute § 593.31 states that once summoned a citizen has the obligation to appear and serve. This obligation ensures an available jury for the parties requesting a jury trial. Without the citizens of Minnesota responding to jury summons, the courts and the justice system would not be able to uphold the constitutional guarantee of a jury trial.  

Jury service has long been and continues to be an integral part of a democracy. Aristotle in about 350 B.C. stated that democracy’s best virtue was the “collective wisdom” drawn from citizens of different backgrounds and walks of life. The American jury has been described as “the last, best refuge of this connection among democracy, deliberation, and the achievement of wisdom by ordinary persons,” by Jeffrey Abramson in his book, We, the Jury.  

In Minnesota, Chief Justice Russell Anderson issued a proclamation in April 2007 expressing appreciation for those Minnesotans who answer the call to jury service, and stated, “Jury service is a privilege and responsibility of citizenship, providing the opportunity for people from diverse backgrounds to have direct contact with our democracy and to actively participate in the justice system; and … Minnesotans respond to jury summons at a consistently high rate and should be proud of their willingness to serve.”

Retired Judge George Harrelson of Lyon County has made an insightful observation of juries, “There is something almost magical about juries.  We take people from different backgrounds: farmers, college students, business workers, [people of various creeds and ethnic origins]. We give them a brief orientation and . . . we turn them into judges. Want to know a secret? They do a much better job than any individual judge can do. The accumulated knowledge, experience, common sense, and the ability to look at issues from different perspectives make the jury system the most valuable tool for justice that has ever been invented.”

Please be aware: There is currently a nationwide identity theft scam where prospective jurors are called and asked to give their personal information. A scammer recently called a Wright County resident claiming to be a deputy sheriff having an arrest warrant for failing to report for jury duty and asking for bail money to be paid by credit card. Minnesota Court Staff will never ask prospective jurors for financial information such as credit card or bank account information or Social Security numbers over the phone. Do not provide this kind of information to anyone over the phone claiming to represent the court system. If you receive this kind of request, hang up and contact your local law enforcement agency and your local jury office directly.

Jury service is among our duties and responsibilities as citizens of a democracy. We should serve with willingness and devotion. Remember, it’s in your court.

 

— Wright County District Court Judge Steve Halsey is chambered in Buffalo. He also maintains a blog at www.minnesotafamilylawissues.blogspot.com

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