All citizens play a vital role in our civil and criminal justice systems simply by appearing for jury duty. In Connecticut, while a civil jury is always made up of six (6) regular jurors and usually two (2) alternate jurors (the number of alternates may be larger depending on the length of the case), the number of jurors selected for a criminal jury will depend on the nature of the criminal offense with which the defendant is charged.
The mere presence of individuals that appear for jury duty often results in the disposition or settlement of cases as the parties to a case make one last effort to negotiate a fair compromise. For those cases that are not resolved, the jury selection process allows individual citizens, speaking as a group, a say in accordance with the law, as to what we as a society deem appropriate behavior. Being selected for a jury means making an important decision in either a civil or criminal case. A jury in one case may decide the fate of one accused of a crime, or in another the number of damages, one must pay for careless behavior.
In Connecticut, we have what is called individual “voir dire,” which means that the lawyers involved in a case have a right under our state’s Constitution to question each potential juror individually outside the presence of the other potential jurors. All other states and our federal system conduct some form of panel “voir dire,” which means the lawyers speak to the potential jurors in a group. Though the individual voir dire process generally takes longer, it provides the lawyers involved in a case a better opportunity to gauge whether a potential juror can be fair and impartial.
There are no right or wrong answers to any question asked during jury selection. What the lawyers seek are honest answers so that they can make a decision on the fitness of a potential juror for a specific case. For example, a recent victim of a robbery may not be an appropriate juror in a criminal case where the defendant is charged with robbery. Though potential jurors are told very little about the actual case for which they may be selected, the questions asked during the voir dire process will likely touch upon some of the issues in dispute.
The day will begin with your arrival at the courthouse, where you will likely come to know the jury clerk. The jury clerk is generally responsible for guiding all the potential jurors throughout the day. After you sign in, you will be shown a video that will introduce you to our system of justice. The video will contain valuable basic information about the process you are now a part of, and will define various legal doctrines such as the burden of proof in a case.
Usually by 10:00 A.M., the lawyers in that day’s cases will have assembled, and they will begin introducing their respective cases to the group. What they will tell you is whom they represent, where they work, with whom they work, when they expect the actual trial to begin, roughly how long the trial will last, and they will disclose a list of potential witnesses in the case. If you are selected to a panel for a particular case and you have a conflict with any of the information provided by the lawyers, you will have an opportunity to disclose your conflict to the jury clerk and the lawyers before the individual questioning by the lawyers begins. At that point, you may be excused from the case or you may be asked to remain and be questioned by the lawyers.
It is important to come to jury duty with knowledge of your schedule over the next few months because you may be selected for a trial that does not start right away. If you have any vacation plans, you should make those known right away as well. Once you are questioned by the lawyers in a particular case, the lawyers will then decide whether to accept you as a juror or dismiss you from serving further. If you are dismissed from the case, your service is completed. If you are accepted, you were likely considered by the lawyers to be fair and impartial to all parties in the case. You will return to court when the actual trial starts. Your jury service is complete and you will be discharged from service when a verdict is returned by the jury or the case is resolved by the parties during the trial.
You should bring something to keep you busy. Many that attend jury duty bring reading material or laptop computers to occupy their time while they wait to be questioned. Cameras are not allowed in court buildings so if you have a camera on your cell phone, you may not be able to bring it with you. It is also a good idea to have a plan for lunch. Generally, the lunch break is from 1:00 P.M. to 2:00 P.M., and while there is a snack shop located inside most of the courthouses in the state, you should consider alternatives for eaching lunch in advance.
Finally, whether you were released or actually served as a juror, you are thereafter discharged from further state court jury duty for the next three (3) years. You may learn more about jury duty in Connecticut state court by clicking here. This link to the Connecticut State Judicial Branch website will provide you with answers to the following questions:
– What must I do when I get a summons?
– How do I postpone jury duty?
– How do I ask to be disqualified from jury service?
– What about child care?
– How do I confirm that I have to go to court on the scheduled day?
– What happens if I can’t go to court on the scheduled day?
– What if I do not serve?
– Will I get paid for jury service?
– What if the weather is bad?
– What if my employee is called to jury duty?
– What if the summons is wrong or if the person summoned has died?
– How was I selected?
– How can I get more information?
Remember that your service as a juror is an essential aspect of our civil justice system.