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The jury is out and deliberating

Written by Neal F. Litherland. Posted in Pennies Saved & Pennies Earned

Published on November 09, 2011 with No Comments

So you’re going out to your mail box hoping that maybe you got a letter from that long-lost sweetheart, or that your IRS tax refund that’s been late has finally arrived. You find a handful of bills, some cheap advertisements, and then buried at the bottom something that makes your stomach clench.

A notice from the court. You open it up wondering if you’re being sued, or if someone really saw what you did last Saturday night when you partied too hard.

No, it’s even worse … you’ve been selected for jury duty.

Now before you get too forlorn, it’s important that you understand what this letter really means and what it doesn’t mean.

Take it from someone that went, you’re in for an instructive day.

A jury summons, the letter you have, means that your name has been drawn randomly for either the state or the federal court system.

The letter gives you instructions for where to appear and when, and it will typically be the courthouse in Valparaiso or Hammond for state and federal court respectively. Think of it as an audition; you now have a chance to become a juror but that doesn’t mean that you are going to be one.

When you show up at the court house you will be directed to where all of the potential jurors on your panel are waiting. You’ll be given a small instructional booklet, and you’ll be asked to watch a small video that explains your responsibilities to you as a potential juror. This will be the first hour and change of your experience as a juror.

To paraphrase your responsibilities, jurors are the men and women who we call upon to be impartial and to render a verdict based on the facts of any particular case in front of the court that we can’t otherwise decide. Great pains are taken to be sure that jurors are reasonable people who have no attachment to the case in question, and who can absorb all of the facts presented from a neutral outsider’s perspective.

Unlike Hollywood jurors you’re not allowed to re-visit crime scenes, talk to witnesses or otherwise play detective; that’s the job of the prosecution, defense, police and all other players in the case. It’s also the exact opposite of what a responsible juror does.

Once all of these responsibilities have been explained to you and your fellow potential jurors you will all be asked to step into the courtroom. You will sit in the jury box, and the prosecution and defense for a criminal case or the plaintiff and the defense for a civil case, will ask you questions about your feelings and opinions in a hypothetical situation.

What the lawyers are trying to do here is to figure out where your sympathies and prejudices lie, as well as if you have any pre-existing relationships or ties that would render you partial, and thus unsuitable to be a juror. If for instance you believe that all lawsuits are frivolous, then you won’t be asked to be a juror in a civil court case. Alternatively if you are related to a lawyer on the case, or to the defendant or the plaintiff, then you’re assumed to be too biased to sit on the jury.

If there is no legal reason that you can be dismissed though, each side of the case has a number of preemptive challenges; typically three. What that means is that either the defense or the prosecution can say “I don’t want that juror on the case,” and that juror will be thanked for his or her time and dismissed. Once all of the questions are asked and all of the challenges are issued, the court will have their jurors selected and everyone else will be dismissed.

Now, some quick answers to some frequently asked questions. Yes, jurors get paid. Just showing up for your summons will net you a payment for the time that you put in that day, and if you are selected to be a juror you will be given a daily amount of money in addition to free parking and a meal plan. Yes, you can be excused from jury duty if it would cause undue hardship to you and your loved ones. So if you’re required to be out of the state or country, if you’re ill or if you have to care for children or elderly relatives you can request a dismissal. And lastly once you’ve been selected for state jury duty in Indiana you are immune for 2 years; you can however still be called for federal jury duty.

To paraphrase one of the representatives your author listened to, “the American court system is the worst in the world, except for all the others.” At the core of that system, and of American society, is the idea of fairness. A jury of your peers, people who have no pre-conceived notions about you or your case and who can listen with an open mind are required in order to keep the wheels of justice moving. And something that every juror needs to remember is that, if you’re ever on the other side of the bars, you’re going to want people that can hear and weigh your case just as impartially as you would theirs.

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About Neal F. Litherland

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All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Neal Litherland is a Valparaiso resident who has been a freelance writer for several years. A graduate of Indiana University, he holds a Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice. He offers advice on money-saving tips using common-sense tactics. He welcomes suggestions and comments. Contact Neal: neal@thechroniclenwi.com.

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