When You're Summoned for Jury Duty

…and you’re being “screened,” or whatever, do you get to see the defendant? Are you told what he’s charged with, what kind of time he’s facing, etc.? Do you get to ask questions? Are you allowed to read a prepared statement to the judge & counsel?

I was on the initial panel of 50 that they were screening for a trial. The defendant was in the courtroom, and we were told what the charges were, but not potential sentencing. We were not allowed questions. If you had any concerns that you did not want to bring up in front of the group, you could ask for a sidebar.

This was St. Louis county, Missouri. I can’t speak to other jurisdictions.

This is exactly my experience too.

It all depends on the judge, and the law of the state in which you have been called to serve.

In the NE Ohio courts in which I’ve practiced, the defendant is in the courtroom when the venire (group of prospective jurors) is brought in. The judge or lawyers typically will (but need not necessarily) tell you up front what the charge(s) are. Potential sentencing is never discussed - that’s up to the judge if there’s a conviction. If it’s a capital case, though, you’ll be told that from the outset, and go through an additional process to “death qualify” the jury - that is, to empanel jurors who are not so adamantly against the death penalty that they would never impose it. (You’ll sometimes hear this called “Witherspooning” after this case: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witherspoon_v._Illinois).

Jurors are not allowed to ask questions during voir dire (the jury selection process) but, in some courts, may do so, in writing, individually once testimony begins in the trial, and may do so in conjunction with the other jurors during deliberation. If you have an embarrassing or sensitive issue to raise with the judge and/or lawyers during voir dire, yes, you may ask for a sidebar. IME this is typically something like “I have a bladder problem and can’t sit for hours on end” or “My sister is a convicted drug user and I’d rather not hear that kind of case.”

I have never heard of someone who wished to read a prepared statement to the judge and lawyers, and would be amazed to see it permitted. I suppose the judge might ask to read the statement herself, out of morbid curiosity or to see if you were raising some issue that would make it unlikely you could serve fairly and impartially.

In NJ, the defendant was there, I was told the charge, they even went so far as to briefly describe the circumstances of arrest and the proposed defense strategy (it was all a setup, man). We were asked questions* about our relationships with Law Enforcement Officers, and our thoughts on how truthful LEOs tend to be.

I am kind of bummed that I never got to find out the eventual outcome of the case.

*Both by questionnaire, where I suppose you could attach your manifesto, and with direct questioning by the lawyers (which I didn’t get to do).

In GA, i was summoned. Defendant was in the courtroom. After lunch he was milling about with the jurors waiting for the judge to open the court back up. Several of the other jurors and I wonder how that was ok, since nothing was stopping him from starting up a conversation.

In Orlando, voir dire is taken place in the presence of the defendant as well (presumably, so that the defendant can voice their opinion on who to seat), the charges are informed, and either the prosecuting or defending attorney may give additional details of the case (though not too much, of course) as part of the jury selection process.

IIRC, voir dire is considered part of the trial and the defendant’s right to be present is constitutional; i.e., that does not vary by jurisdiction.

The only time I was on a jury was for a civil case in New York and the defendant (a store owner) was not present for any of the jury selection or the trial. Selection was done by the two lawyers in a small room with no judge present, and consisted of a written questionnaire and some brief interrogation by the lawyers.

What sort of statement? Are you aware of the term “contempt of court”?

I’m also curious what sort of statement one prepares for jury duty. Please, share.

You could also end up being part of the group being screened for the grand jury, in which case there will not be a defendent present because a grant jury sits for a specified length of time and could be evaluating any number of defendents. Also, the grand jury doesn’t determine guilt, just whether a case should go to trial.

I was on two juries in Baltimore (City), Maryland. In the criminal trial (murder), the defendant was in the court room, and the judge went over the charges. In the civil trial, both the plaintiff and the defendants were in the room.

I am also curious as to what kind of “statement” the OP would like to read.

I’ve been summoned twice. I never saw a defendant.

They bring in a large bunch of potential jurors and you fill out questionnaires. There’s a clerk present that you can ask questions to but they’re mostly about the procedures not about the potential trial. A judge will stop in a few times to address the crowd but there’s no real interaction.

The first time I was summoned, we were told we were going to do a malpractice trial. The second time it was a big pool and we were going to be split up between several different trials, but we weren’t given specifics. In both cases, the trial I was potentially going to do ended up getting settled at the last minute and we were dismissed.

In some jurisdictions, you’ll have to be told if it’s a capital offense because juries are “death qualified” (not absolutely opposed to the death penalty and don’t believe it must be imposed in all capital cases).

In the most recent case I was a candidate for, the defendant was sitting next to counsel during voir dire. I think they did this so that defense could observe any apparent reactions of the jurors to the defendant’s appearance.

When I was summoned last time in DC, the Defendant was present. He stood up and introduced himself. In the questionnaire that we had to fill out, one of the questions was whether we knew the Defendant. They wanted to eliminate anybody who knew the Defendant. They told us the charges, but they didn’t tell us what the sentence was for those charges.

The defendant is present for final jury selection for federal trials in Canada. As a potential juror, you are told what the charges are, but no details. The judge will ask you questions, which you are expected to answer simply. (I was asked my profession, and whether my personal beliefs would affect my decision-making (given that the accused was a member of an ethnic and religious minority.) However, you do have an opportunity to present a statement during the procedures before the final selection. At the trial in which I was selected for the jury, many people applied for exemptions, which they had to explain in front of the judge. Considering that one of the exemptions was “cannot understand French or English,” I can easily imagine someone bringing a written note.

Process explained here: http://www.canadianlawsite.ca/jury-duty.htm#f

I think there’s a difference between civil and crimiinal cases. In civil cases, such as the ones you were involved with, you may not see the defendent (or plaintiff) before the trial starts. But in a criminal case, as Tom Tildrum said, you must.

Despite having the same name, the defendent in a civil case is a very different legal entitiy than the defendent in a criminal case.

I am envisioning Al Pacino in* And Justice For All*.