There’s a strange envelope in your mail box from the County Clerk’s office. You open it to find that you have been summoned for jury duty. You might think: “This is not a good time”. I have a million things to do and this is just one more thing I have to do in an otherwise busy week in an otherwise busy life.” Another thought might be: “What if I get stuck on a Criminal case. I don’t know if I can hear that kind of evidence without being forever changed.”
You may also remember hearing, “jury duty is an obligation of citizenship, as well as a privilege”. These and many other thoughts often go through the mind when someone receives a Jury Summons. The purpose of this article is to walk you through the process of jury service in North Carolina, using jury duty in Buncombe County, North Carolina as an example.
FIRST, LET’S LOOK AT THE JURY SUMMONS
The jury summons has a lot of information on the basics of jury service, including these frequently asked questions:
1. When am I to appear?
The jury summons has a service date. The service date is the date you are scheduled to appear for jury duty. It will also include the time when you should be in the jury room.
2. What if I can’t appear or serve on the service date I’ve been given?
The jury summons will identify the date you can appear before a Judge and explain to the Judge why service as a juror on the date that you have been requested would pose an unusual hardship upon you. In the example below, the excused date for jury service is circled. Please note that the “hardship day” occurs a few weeks before your actual jury service date. Don’t miss it.
3. Can I just ignore the jury summons?
Failure to obey the jury summons is punishable by law. The Judge can order that the Sheriff place you in custody and bring you in Court as well as hold you in contempt of Court and jail you. The Judge has broad authority and you do not want to disobey the Court.
4. What if my boss won’t let me serve or objects to my taking off work for jury duty?
An employer is not allowed to punish, fire or otherwise adversely impact a person who misses work for service on a jury in North Carolina. If you have an issue with this, bring it to the attention of the Judge at your first opportunity. While an employer may not “penalize” you for jury service, the employer is not obligated to pay your your regular wages during your jury service either.
5. Are there instructions for jurors?
Yes. Please look at the back of your summons. It will give you guidance concerning the length of service, the compensation that you will receive, what happens if there is an unforeseeable emergency/weather event and even where to park?
6. What happens if there are questions that are not answered by the jury sheet?
In Buncombe County there is a dedicated jury service clerk. You may call them at 828-259-3405 after 10:00 a.m. to have your questions answered.
7. Where do I park?
There is a parking garage that is located right across the street from the Court house. Parking is free in the parking garage during your jury duty.
NEXT, WHAT HAPPENS ON THE DAY OF JURY SERVICE
“What do I wear to serve as a juror?”
Many people wonder what they should wear for jury service. While there are no hard and fast rules, here are some tips or things to consider.
- Wear something comfortable. Courtrooms can be cold or hot depending upon the season of the year, the size of the courtroom and the time of day. In Buncombe County, a lot of the courtrooms where jury trials are held are located on the west side of the building. Consequently, the afternoon sun can shine in and change the temperature in the courtroom by several degrees.
- Wear sensible shoes. Jurors literally sit in a “ jury box” or divided section of the courtroom. Some of these “jury boxes” have elevated levels and you may want shoes that you are comfortable negotiating those different levels with and stepping around “but not on” your fellow jurors.
- No strong perfumes or smells. You will be in pretty close quarters with your fellow jurors. Avoid strong odors and smells such as too much perfume or aftershave. Efforts to wear freshly laundered clothes and having recently bathed will likely be appreciated by your fellow jurors as well.
- Have your glasses. If you need glasses to see far away or up close, please bring them with you. There are times when evidence will be offered that you might want to take a closer look at or at least be sure you can clearly see. Bring your corrective eyewear to facilitate this if you need them.
- Bring a book or something to occupy your mind when there is down time. The jury must sit as a full panel to hear evidence or to deliberate. You may want something to read while your fellow jurors arrive. Until everyone is there, evidence in a case does not proceed. There may be times when the Court has to hear something outside of the presence of the jury and the jury will be excused to the jury room. Light reading material can come in handy during these occasions.
- Arrive on time. Nothing can start until all the jurors are there. Be conscientious of you fellow jurors and arrive on time.
- Enjoy yourself. Make the most of your time. You and your fellow jurors are representatives of the community and your decisions will make a significant difference to the parties.
“What is the length of the average jurors’ day?”
Each Judge and each case is different and there is no mandatory length of a juror’s day. However, Judges and the attorneys will try to balance the competing needs of a juror’s schedule with the desires of the Court to administer justice and the rights of the parties and witnesses. Judges will typically have jurors report to the Court after the first day directly to the jury assembly room of the courtroom for the case to which you are assigned. The Judge may tell you to be there at 9:00 or 9:30.
Please be prompt and do not be late for that time. Allow yourself extra time to park, go through security and make it to your assigned room. The Court will generally take a mid-morning break as well as a lunch break between 12:30 and 2:00 o’clock. There will be an afternoon break and generally the evidence will stop around or shortly after 5:00 o’clock. This allows the jurors to attend to certain business needs they may have during the day during lunch or those courtroom breaks. Even though the jurors are not in the Courtroom, the Judge and the lawyers are probably very busy. Most Judges begin hearing matters at 8:30 in the morning, during the jurors’ lunch break and sometimes into the early evening. Remember, just because you’re not in the courtroom does not mean that the courtroom is not being used by other parties in other matters or by the parties in your case. Judges and courtroom personnel hear many matters and things outside the presence of juries. Do not worry, you will not miss anything.
The Judge will make sure that all of the evidence that you are to hear is presented before you. If you have any questions about jury service or service while you are a member of a jury, please bring that to the attention of the bailiff. The bailiff is the jury’s liaison to the Court.
A FEW THOUGHTS ON JURY DUTY
As a juror you come together with your fellow citizens and hear the evidence as a representative body of the whole community. You will be one-twelfth of the community’s voice. Jurors hold a lot of power and the lives of the parties to the local proceedings you decide will be forever impacted by your service. The Plaintiff gets one day in Court. If circumstances change they cannot come back and ask a different jury to re-hear the case based on the new development. What you as the jury decide during that case must last the lifetime of the Plaintiff and represents what you consider acceptable behavior for the community and what is considered full and fair compensation on behalf of the whole community.
Jury service has been compared to voting. No one likes the prospect of standing hours in an election line much less the prospect of sitting in a courtroom for hours or days listening to a case. Like voting, jury service is the opportunity to have your voice heard. As a juror, in many ways you set the standard that the community will accept or tolerate. Will a verdict require an insurance company to compensate for the harm caused by bad driving choices or an accident, or will the person injured, the doctors and other members of the care team, go without compensation? That question is answered every day by jurors across the country. Ask any lawyer experienced in the courtroom and he or she will tell you that he considers a juror to be a hero. The law empowers jurors to save the day and thereby become heroes. A jury is a collection of ordinary people, who, through their selection to serve on a jury, confront injustice and right wrongs. There are many tips online for evading or avoiding jury service. Instead of running away, the hero chooses to stand and do the right thing – even to the point of self-sacrifice. Remember this as you choose to be a hero and serve on a jury.
 In North Carolina the jury is not told of insurance for the Defendant in a civil case. The Defendant is the only one name and the insurance company defends the case in the name of the Defendant.