How Are Federal Jurors Selected?
Trials by jury make up the core of the American justice system. Serving on a jury in the United States is considered a citizen’s duty and the government provides specific guidelines for selecting jurors for a particular case.
What is a Jury?
To understand the jury selection process, it is helpful to know what role juries play in the justice system. A jury is simply a group of citizens that are chosen to hear the facts of a legal case and then issue a judgment regarding the guilt or innocence of the defendant.
To ensure fairness and a just verdict, federal guidelines have specific requirements for who is allowed to serve on a jury.
How Are Jurors Selected?
In order to serve on a jury, a person must be:
- A legal citizen of the United States
- Age 18 or older
- A resident of the district for at least one year
- Able to read, write and speak
- Free of any mental or physical handicaps that could prevent them from serving
- Free of any felony convictions or upcoming felony cases
The jury selection process is very meticulous. When a jury is being formed, a list of potential jurors is created, usually from a list of all registered voters in a district. These potential jurors may be sent a questionnaire to determine if they are suited to serve on the jury. Any potential jurors who are unable to serve on the jury, like people who care for young children or elderly people, may be excused from the proceedings.
Next, people are chosen at random from the list to be issued an official summons to appear at the court. These people may submit a request to be excused from service if they have a legitimate hardship, such as a lack of transportation or a scheduled medical procedure.
The remaining potential jurors are then taken through a process known as “voir dire.” Voir dire involves detailed questioning of the potential jurors to detect any bias or prejudice. Attorneys for the prosecution and defense are allowed to challenge the selection of any juror if they believe that the juror can’t be impartial.
Types of Juries
There are two main types of juries: grand juries and petit juries.
Petit juries are the most common type. These juries, usually made up of 12 jurors with 1-6 alternates, serve on a jury for a single case and are paid for their time.
Grand juries are composed of 16 to 23 members and serve for a period of one year. Grand juries don’t decide guilt. Rather, they hear evidence to determine if a federal indictment can be issued so that the defendant can be formally charged with a crime.