SERVING ON A RHODE ISLAND JURY

The importance of jury service

Jury service is as important a civic and community duty as any citizen can be called upon to perform. As a juror, a citizen makes possible the implementation of the right to trial by jury - a cornerstone of our democratic way of life - and has a direct hand in the administration of justice. This responsibility of citizenship is a privilege which should be accepted with pride.

Qualifications of jurors

Everyone over eighteen years of age who is a citizen of the United States and is a qualified elector of any city or town is able to serve as a juror.

Excuse from jury duty

A person may be excused from jury duty on a particular occasion because of special circumstances applicable to his or her individual case, but no one should ask to be excused except for urgent reasons. A Superior or Family Court judge or the jury commissioner may excuse a person ftom jury duty or may defer his or her jury services until a later date upon a showing of mental or physical illness or extreme hardship.

The courts try to reduce inconvenience to jurors as much as possible. Whenever particular jurors are not likely to be needed, they are excused from attendance.

Cases tried by a jury

Cases which come before a trial jury are divided into two general classes, civil and criminal.

A civil case is one involving a dispute between two or more parties who come into court to determine their respective rights and settle their differences. This type of case ordinarily seeks to recover a certain sum of money. The person who brings the suit is the "plaintiff." The person against whom the suit is brought is the "defendant." The plaintiff begins the case by setting forth a claim in a written "complaint" which is filed in the office of the clerk of the court. The defendant responds to the claim in an "answer" which is also filed with the clerk. In Rhode Island, a jury in a civil case consists of 6 people.

A criminal case is a prosecution brought in the name of the state on behalf of all citizens to try an accused person charged with having committed a crime against the peace and dignity of the entire community. In a criminal case, the state is the "prosecutor" and is represented by an Assistant or Special Assistant Attorney General; the person accused of the crime is the "defendant." Under the Rhode Island constitution, a defendant is entitled to a trial by a jury of 12 people. The function of the jury is to determine whether the state has introduced sufficient evidence to prove the defendant guilty.

Selection of jurors

The names of a panel of jurors, usually from 20 to 30 people, are put in a special drum or barrel. From this drum, the clerk of the court draws separately the names of 12 persons if the trial is a criminal one, or 6 persons if the trial is civil. As his or her name is called, each juror takes a seat in the jury box. The names of I or 2 alternate jurors are also drawn to serve in the event that one of the other jurors becomes ill or incapacitated.

The trial judge presiding over the case will tell the jury about the parties, their lawyers, and what the case is about. The aim is to obtain a fair and impartial jury, and for this purpose questions may be asked either by the judge or by the lawyers. The object of these questions is to determine whether any juror is disqualified to sit on the particular case or should be excused from participating in the trial. The jurors must answer these questions frankly and accurately.

When the jury has been selected, the clerk will administer the oath. Each juror swears to hear and consider carefully all the evidence, to weigh the issues intelligently and impartially, to consider the law as given by the judge, and to render a verdict according to the law and the evidence.

Each juror is expected to serve for a period of two weeks, or 10 actual trial days. If a case upon which a juror is selected, however, requires more than two weeks for trial, the jurors must remain until such case is completed.

Juror conduct

1.During the trial. While a case is on trial, jurors must not talk about the case with each other or with any other person, especially any lawyer or witness in the case, or allow any person to talk about the case in their presence. A juror must refrain from participating in any activity which might tend to incline that juror toward one party or the other. Jurors are not "amateur detectives." Since the only evidence they can consider is that presented in court, they must not make an independent investigation or visit any of the locations involved in the case. In deciding a case, jurors are expected to bring to bear all the experience, common sense, and common knowledge they possess, but are not to rely on any private source of information.

2. In the jury Room. After the evidence has been concluded, and the charge of the court (the instructions by the judge as to the question or questions the jury is to decide and the law which applies to the evidence presented) has been delivered, the jury retires to the jury room to consider its verdict. It is the foreman's duty to act as the presiding officer and see that the jury's deliberations are conducted in an orderly fashion, to see that the questions submitted for the jury's consideration are fully and fairly discussed, and that every juror has a chance to say what he or she thinks upon every question. Every juror should listen carefully to the views of all the other members of the jury and consider them with an open mind if he or she decides that his or her opinion was not right, but one who has an opinion should not change it unless his or her reason and judgment have changed. No juror should vote against his or her conscience.

 

NOTE

This piece is produced as a public service by the Rhode Island Bar
Association and intended to provide background information. This is not a
substitute for legal advice and representation by a licensed attorney of the
Rhode Island Bar.