Jury duty offers citizens a civic dutySome people dread getting the letter in the mail summoning them for jury duty, but those who have sat on a jury may argue it’s not as bad is it’s made out to be. Care is taken by our court system to pick the right jury for trials.
By: Ashley Martin, The Dickinson Press
Some people dread getting the letter in the mail summoning them for jury duty, but those who have sat on a jury may argue it’s not as bad is it’s made out to be. Care is taken by our court system to pick the right jury for trials.
Sally Holewa, state court administrator, said names for potential jurors are pulled from two places.
“Every two years we get a list of registered drivers in North Dakota and those people who have a state ID card,” Holewa said. “Then we merge that with the list of all the people who voted in the last general election.”
The list is then fed into a computer program which tosses out duplicates.
“If you drive and you vote you only end up in there once,” Holewa said. “You’re not doubling your chances by being a good citizen.”
A computer system sorts the names into the counties where those people reside, and from there clerks can pull a list of potential jurors when they need it, Holewa said. The names are chosen at random.
The clerk pulls a large list of names before trial, Holewa said. When jurors are summoned, a smaller group is pulled out of the first list.
“You’re technically doing two random shuffles to get there,” Holewa said. “You might take 200 and for a specific trial randomly pull out 16 of those 200.”
The day of the trial, the judge assigned to the case begins weeding the list of jurors down even further.
“Generally the judge will start to ask people very broad questions about you, like, ‘do you have any physical disability or illness that would prevent you from sitting in this trial for two days?’” Holewa said.
Then the attorneys question them and can strike a certain number of potential jurors, depending on the case. The judge rules on whether or not the strikes are warranted.
“They can remove them for cause, which means there’s a specific reason why,” Holewa said. “For example, if you were one of those people and you know the police officer who investigated.”
She said there isn’t a specific “type” of juror the court system looks for.
“They’re really looking for a good slice of the community,” Holewa said.
After attorneys have used their strikes, there are likely still too many potential jurors. They are then weeded down to the amount needed for the trial, and no reason is needed to strike them from the list, Holewa said.
Stephanie Farstveet of Dickinson served on a jury earlier this year and said it wasn’t what she expected. The trial was over a property damage dispute, she said.
“You think it’s going to be a sensation jury trial and it wasn’t,” Farstveet said.
Once she got into the trial, however, she found the experience to be “very positive” and educational.
“My first reaction was ‘oh no, oh no, it’s time again,’ but it really is a civic duty and it’s something we all need to do when the time comes,” Farstveet said. “It lets the average person see how the judicial system works. We should all be happy that we have the right to go to trial if we need to.”
Deciding on a verdict was much more difficult than she imagined it would be, she added.
“Not everybody agreed right away, so it was a little bit of a process,” Farstveet said.
It took about an hour for the jury Farstveet was on to come to a verdict.
“It is a hard decision, because you feel for both parties involved,” Farstveet said.
The trial Farstveet served at lasted a day, she said. Most jury trials only last a day, but some last two or three, Holewa said. “Very unusual” cases may last longer than three days, she added.
There is nobody over 18 years of age exempt from jury duty in North Dakota, Holewa said. However, those who are 72 years of age and older can opt out.
“It essentially becomes optional at that point,” she said.
Anyone contemplating ditching their jury duty should think twice.
“It’s not an automatic penalty, because we’ll give you notice that you missed and an opportunity to explain, but we can ultimately hold someone in contempt of court,” Holewa said. “Technically, you could be fined and you could be jailed, but generally speaking, you have to be very contemptuous to actually go to jail.”