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Jury duty is a staple of American citizenship. But how does it work?
Here are the basics on how jurors are selected in Arkansas county circuit courts, where state civil and criminal cases go to trial.
Jury summons and eligibility
Counties in Arkansas randomly summon potential jurors from records of registered voters, records of licensed drivers or both.
In Central Arkansas, Faulkner County circuit court chief deputy clerk Nancy Eastham and Pulaski County Circuit Judge Leon Johnson said their courts pull from both sources. Myka Bono-Sample, Saline County circuit clerk, said her court’s potential jurors are only pulled from the list of registered voters.
With the summons comes a questionnaire that asks individuals to verify they meet the basic requirements to be a juror, most importantly that they live in the county in which they were summoned and are not a convicted felon.
Failing to meet either of those two criteria are the main ways to be automatically disqualified from jury service. Bono-Sample said the Legislature also passed a law this year saying those aged 80 or older can be exempt from service, if they so choose.
Once individuals verify their eligibility, potential jurors in Faulkner, Saline and Pulaski counties must attend a juror orientation.
Juror orientation and qualification
During juror orientation people are briefed on how service works, and anyone concerned about their ability to serve due to issues such as economic hardship, being a full-time student, health issues or any other reason usually have a chance to talk to a judge, the only person who can excuse someone from service.
“Our judges are very workable, and I understand hardships and they definitely want to work with the jurors,” Bono-Sample said. “But there are very few across the board cases that just get excused.”
Having a job is not sufficient criteria for being excluded from jury service, and employers are legally obligated to give people time off and not retaliate against employees who must serve.
Once orientation is complete and judges grant exemptions to anyone who needs them, the remaining people are considered qualified jurors.
Reporting for trials
Faulkner, Saline and Pulaski counties function on a four-month term system during which qualified jurors are on-call.
In Pulaski County, Johnson said qualified jurors in his court are assigned a day of the week.
If someone is assigned Tuesday, for example, they are responsible for either calling a number on Monday or checking their email on Monday to find out whether they need to report the next day. They do this every week until their four months are up.
In Saline County, qualified jurors fill out a calendar marking off days they have a conflict, such as a scheduled vacation, and the court uploads the data into a program. When a trial is scheduled, the program randomly selects several dozen people without conflicts and the court then contacts them telling them to report.
Faulkner County separates qualified jurors into groups during orientation and each group is assigned several weeks during the term that they are on call, Eastham said. They can sign up for email or texts to alert them if there is a trial during their designated week they will need to report for or they call a number for that information.
Selection for trials
To decide who among the qualified jurors will actually be selected for a trial, the court uses a questioning process called voir dire. Among the goals of this process is to discover anyone who may be unable to serve impartially on that particular trial’s jury.
“If it's a car wreck trial and somebody has been in a car wreck and they went to court and they won, that might not be a perfect juror for that trial,” Bono-Sample said.
A group of 12 jurors, and sometimes a couple of alternates, are picked. The rest of the group is allowed to leave. However, these people may need to report again during their term to be screened for service on another trial.
Someone who is selected for a trial jury may also be asked to report again within their four-month term.
“We try not to let them serve too often, so we try not to use them again if we don't have to,” Johnson said. “But sometimes we may have to use them again.”
Bono-Sample said there is a limit of 10 days of service per juror per term, though if a trial is in progress and a juror reaches 10 days of service, they will still complete that trial. Jurors are paid a daily rate of at least $50 during trials.
At the end of the four-month period, all the qualified jurors are excused from serving again for at least two years, regardless of whether they actually sat on a trial jury during their term.