Jurors perform a vital role in the American system of justice. The protection of our rights and liberties is largely achieved through the teamwork of Judge and jury who, working together in a common effort, put into practice the principles of our great heritage of freedom. The Judge determines the law to be applied in the case while the jury decides the facts. Thus, in a very important way, jurors become a part of the Court itself.
Any inconvenience and financial sacrifice that might be made to render public service as a juror are greatly appreciated by the Judge, the lawyers and your fellow citizens. It is a strong act of citizenship akin to paying taxes, serving in the military and voting.
The reward for a juror’s services lies in the awareness that he or she has performed a high duty of citizenship, and in the realization that he or she has aided in the maintenance of law, order, and in the administration of justice among his or her fellow citizens.
Efficient jurors are men and women of sound judgment, absolute honesty, and a complete sense of fairness. The juror aids in the maintenance of law and order and upholds justice among the citizenry. His or her greatest reward is the knowledge that he or she has discharged the duty faithfully, honorably, and well. In addition to determining and adjusting property rights, jurors may also be asked to decide questions involving a crime for which a person may be confined in prison. In a very real sense, therefore, the people must rely upon jurors for the protection of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Any juror should realize a quiet importance and pride from his or her service. He or she should decide the facts and apply the law impartially, treat alike the rich and the poor, men and women, corporations and individuals. He or she should render justice without any regard to race, color, or creed.
The process of selecting jurors begins with a computer randomly selecting names from the Pennsylvania drivers list of all persons 18 years of age or older.
The following stages of a trial usually occur in jury cases:
- Selection of a jury and juror’s oath
- The opening statements of the lawyers. Sometimes the opening statements are omitted.
- The plaintiff or the Commonwealth calls witnesses and produces evidence to prove his or her case.
- The defendant may call witnesses and produce evidence to disprove the plaintiff’s case and to prove the defendant’s claims.
- Arguments are made by the lawyers on each side.
- The Judge will instruct the jury in each separate case as to the law of the case. Jurors must follow these instructions of law given to them by the Judge in each particular case.
- The jury then retires to the jury deliberation room to arrive at a verdict.
Generally, there are two types of cases in which jurors serve. One is the Common Pleas Court - Criminal, in which persons are charged with crimes, and the other is Common Pleas Court - Civil, in which parties come to court to have their disputes resolved.
Jurors are summoned for the number of days that appear on their summons
The law allows persons who have served as a juror a one (1) year exemption. If you are selected and serve on a jury for three (3) days or more, you may be excused for a period of three (3) years from date of service.
Jurors receive $10.00 a day for the first three days of service. Beginning on the fourth day, the rate increases to $25.00 per day. Jurors also receive mileage of 25 cents per mile for each day of service.
There is no legal requirement that employers must pay you while you are on jury service. Ask your employer what the company policy says, as companies differ. Some employers ask you to supply proof that you were at Court on jury service. Tioga County will provide you with a "Jury Card" which verifies your service with the Court.
Business or casual business attire is appropriate in the courtroom.
When called to serve, jurors are to report to the Tioga County Courthouse on Main Street in Wellsboro, PA at 8:30 AM. Juror parking is available on both sides of Main Street in front of the courthouse, in the parking lot behind the courthouse, and on Water Street , which runs behind the courthouse parking lot. Jurors will be required to pass through a security checkpoint to gain entry to the courthouse. This checkpoint includes a metal detector, so jurors are advised to refrain from carrying any unnecessary metal objects, especially pocket knives. Also, jurors are advised that they will not be allowed to bring cellular telephones into the courthouse. Jury selection begins promptly at 9:00am, so all jurors must be signed in and seated at that time.
Tioga County juries are rarely sequestered, that is kept separate from the public for the duration of a trial, when the judge deems the action necessary because of the nature of the trial. If sequestered, the jurors will have the opportunity to communicate with their families through court personnel; and arrangements will be made to have their clothing and personal articles delivered to them. Following your term of service, you will be compensated at the current daily rate for jury service plus a travel allowance.
A number of people are in the courtroom who play a part in the proceeding.
The JUDGE presides from the elevated bench. Just as you have been chosen to decide the facts, he or she is the person who was elected by the citizens of your county to decide the law. He or she conducts the trial, makes legal decisions and explains the law to you.
A DEPUTY PROTHONOTARY or DEPUTY CLERK OF COURT sits at a desk near the Judge and calls out the names when a jury is empanelled (chosen to try a case) and administers the oath to witnesses.
The LAWYERS represent the people whose cases you will have to decide. In each case, each of them will make opening and closing speeches to you, examine and cross-examine witnesses and, when necessary, request a decision from the Judge on interpretations of the law.
The OFFICIAL COURT REPORTER sits in front of the Judges bench, recording the testimony of the witnesses.
The PLAINTIFF is the party who brings a civil lawsuit. There may be several plaintiffs in the same suit. The plaintiff and his or her lawyer sit at the table nearest the jury. In a criminal case the PROSECUTOR, the party who brings the charge, frequently a police officer, and a DISTRICT ATTORNEY, the lawyer for the prosecution, sit at the table nearer the jury.
The DEFENDANT or Defendants are the parties being sued or, in a criminal case, the person charged with a crime.
The BAILIFF is the court attendant who maintains security and assists the Judge.
The remaining persons in the courtroom may be witnesses waiting to be heard in a case, litigants, or spectators. Under our legal system, the Courts are open to the public so that every citizen may see that justice is done.
When the parties and their lawyers are in the courtroom, a panel of twenty-one or twenty-four jurors is called. From this group of jurors, twelve will be selected to try the case. Two alternate jurors will also be selected to take the place of jurors who may become ill during the trial. Jurors are questioned about their qualifications to sit as jurors in the case. This questioning process is called the voir dire. This is an examination conducted by the Judge or the lawyers and sometimes by both. A deliberately untruthful answer to any fair question could result in serious punishment to the person making it.
The voir dire examination opens with a short statement about the case. The purpose is to inform the jurors of what the case is about and to identify the parties and their lawyers. Questions are then asked to find out whether anyone on the panel has any personal interest in the case or knows of any reason why he or she cannot make an impartial decision. The Court also wants to know whether any member of the panel is related or personally acquainted with the parties. Other questions will determine whether any panel member has a prejudice or feeling that might influence him or her. Any juror having knowledge of the case should tell the Judge.
If you have a problem hearing or remembering the testimony of witnesses, or if you have trouble seeing the participants on the witness stand from the jury box, you may ask the trial Judge to be excused.
Parties on either side may ask that a member of the panel be excused. These requests, or demands, are called challenges.
A person may be challenged for cause if the examination shows he or she might be prejudiced. The Judge will excuse the juror from that case if he or she is satisfied with the reason for the challenge. There is no limit to the number of challenges for cause which either party may make.
The parties also have a right to a certain number of challenges for which no cause is necessary. These are peremptory challenges. The number of such challenges varies according to the charges in a criminal case. The peremptory challenge is a legal right long recognized by law as a means of giving both sides some choice in the make-up of a jury. Jurors should clearly understand that being eliminated from the jury panel by a peremptory challenge is no reflection upon his intelligence, ability or integrity.
Those jurors not selected to serve on the jury will be excused once a panel has been selected.