(This is the second in a three-part series on Jury Duty)
Summoning a jury to participate in a trial is something that Cooke County District Clerk Pat Payne does routinely to meet the needs of the county courts.
Her color-coded calendar shows her the schedule set out for the month and she calls prospective jurors accordingly.
For District Judge Janelle Haverkamp’s court, there are three trial settings each month. Each trial setting is scheduled on the calendar for one week. There is one civil trial setting and two criminal settings each month.
Depending on the court and the type of cases, the number of jurors are selected. Payne said that for criminal cases, 250 jurors are usually called.
Payne said a lot of people receive the summons, especially for a criminal case, because they need to be able to seat a jury for the trial to proceed. Twelve jurors need to be seated in Haverkamp’s court, and in a criminal case, each side can dismiss 10 jurors for any reason. There are also unlimited “strikes for cause,” where counsel for either side may dismiss a prospective juror for reasons that may affect the outcome of the trial.
When Payne is ready to call a jury, she requests a list of jurors which are randomly selected through the computer system in Austin. The list pulls names from the voter registration and drivers licence databanks.
Prospective jurors should meet a list of general qualifications:
• Be at least 18 years of age
• Be a citizen of this state and of the country in which you are to serve
• Be qualified under the Constitution and laws to vote in the country in which you are to serve (you do not have to be a registered voter to be qualified to vote)
• Be of sound mind and good moral character
• Be able to read and write;
• Not have served as a juror for six days during the preceeding three months in the county court or during the preceeding six months in the district court
• Not to have been convicted of, or be under indictment or other legal accusation for, misdemeanor theft or felony
If there are any disqualifications for jury service, the person should sign the summons to certify the disqualification and then return the summons to the court.
The list of prospective jurors that Payne requests will be made up of citizens from Cooke County that should meet the general qualifications.
The list is generated immediately for Payne and she said with the number of prospective jurrors called, the list should represent a cross-section of Cooke County citizens.
The jury call process proceeds as Payne prints out the information on the jury summons for each individual.
The jury summons are then sent to those on the prospective jurors list with the date and time the person is to report for duty.
When the prospective juror receives the summons, they should read it carefully and arrange their schedule to report for duty.
There are exemptions for jury duty that are listed on the summons:
• Be over 70 years of age
• Have legal custody of a child or children younger than 15 years of age and service on the jury would require leaving the child or children without adequate supervision
• You are a student at a public or private high school
• You are enrolled and in actual attendance at an institution of higher education
• You are an officer or an employee of the senate, the house of representatives, or any department, commission, board, office or other agency in the legislative branch of state government
• You are the primary caretaker of a person who is an invalid unable to care for himself or herself (This exemption does not apply to health care workers)
• You are a member of the United States military forces serving on active duty and deployed to a location away from your home station and out of your county of residence
If a citizen of Cooke County is exempt but wants to serve on the jury, they can elect to serve on the jury and report to the court.
The summons informs the prospective juror that their permanent status of employment should not be affected because they serve as a juror and that there are penalties for failure to answer the summons.
Prospective jurors are instructed to “dress in clothing befitting the dignity and solemnity of the court proceedings,” which means no shorts or tank tops.
The prospective jurors need to fill out the “Juror Questionnaire” section of the summons to bring with them when they report to the court. The questionnaire includes basic information such as address and occupation, whether or not they are a U.S. Citizen, level of education completed and whether they have ever served on a civil or criminal jury. The questionnaire is then signed to certify the information is true and correct.
Prior to appearing, the prospective juror should call the phone number provided on the summons. The message will instuct them as to the status of the jury call. If the jury duty has been cancelled they will be informed, or when and how they should report to the court.
If prospective jurors are to report to court, they arrive at the date and time instructed.
Once in the courtroom, the judge of the court will give instruction to the panel of jurors.
Jurors are then selected by the counsels that represent both parties.
After the jury has been selected for the trial, those not put on the jury are dismissed by the court and will not be subject to callback that week.
Jurors receive payment for their jury service. Prospective jurors that report will receive $6 for the first day. Those that serve on the jury will receive $40 for the second day and each additional day they report to the court for the trial.
The jurors selected for the trial then become part of the process for the case.
Haverkamp said that once members of the jury have been selected she tells them not to read any newpapers or do any internet research about the case or comment about the case.
Haverkamp noted in the July 25 edition of the Gainesville Daily Register in the article “Trial by jury a right and duty” that the right to a trial by jury is a right that Americans have fought and died for through the history of our country.
“If people would really sit down and realize how important the right to a trial by jury is, if you make yourself available as a juror, then you assure that for future generations,” she said. “It is certainly a privilege you don’t want to lose — the right to have your peers decide.”