Trial by jury has been a cornerstone of freedom and justice for centuries. The Oregon and United States constitutions protect the right of citizens to a jury trial as vital to the administration of justice. Your public service as a juror is one of the most important functions of our democracy. The proper and efficient functioning of the justice system requires jurors to exercise intelligence, integrity, sound judgment and complete impartiality.
This handbook will help you better understand jury service in Oregon’s state courts. It will supplement the juror orientation process used in your judicial district.
A Summons for Jury Service
Why did I receive a summons for jury service?
A master list of potential jurors for each county is created yearly. The potential jurors are drawn from lists of registered voters, licensed drivers, and other sources. The number of names on the master list is enough to meet the needed jurors in the county. The total number of names may not be less than 2 percent of the county’s population. Names are then drawn randomly from the list, and the court summons those people for jury service. If the master list has been exhausted (a rare situation) and the court needs more jurors, the court may summon more jurors from any source, even from people walking down the street.
What happens if someone ignores a summons for jury service?
The court may issue an order requiring that person to appear in court. If the person ignores the order to appear, the court may hold the person in contempt. A person who does not complete jury service without getting permission from the court may be punished for contempt. If you receive a summons but cannot follow the summons, you must be “excused” or “deferred” by the court.
How do people get excused from jury service?
Only a judge or court clerk may excuse a person from jury service. If you are over age 70 your request will be granted. If you are a woman currently breast-feeding a child, a written request will be granted. If neither of these circumstances apply, your request will be granted only if you show undue hardship or extreme inconvenience to you, your family, your employer, or the public if you are a public servant. Active members of the Oregon National Guard and the Oregon Air National Guard are exempt from jury service. Active duty members of the U.S. armed forces may be exempt from jury service and should consult with their chain of command to learn their status when summoned for jury service.
May I postpone jury service to another date?
Yes. If you can show “good cause” a judge or clerk may postpone your service to another date within one year after you were summoned. A judge or clerk may grand more than one deferral for up to six months from the date of the request. If you request another deferral you must provide good cause for the request. You must also give the court a list of at least 10 dates (within six months following the date of the request) to begin jury duty.
Can I lose my job for reporting to jury service?
No. It is unlawful for your employer to fire you because of jury service. An employer may not threaten to fire, intimidate or coerce you because of jury service. A person who receives such threats may file a lawsuit or file a complaint with the Bureau of Labor and Industries.
Will my employer pay me while I am on jury service?
There is no statutory rule that an employer pay salary or wages during an employee’s jury service. Your employer’s policies, or your employment contract, will determine whether you will be paid during your jury service.
May my employer force me to use paid time off for time spent on jury service?
No. An employer may not force an employee to use leave for time spent responding to a summons for jury duty. The employer must allow the employee to take leave without pay for time spent responding to a summons for jury duty. This is your option. It is an unlawful employment practice if the employer denies an employee the option of taking leave without pay for jury service. If an employer does this, an employee who may bring a civil action or may file a complaint with the Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries.
Compensation of Jurors
Do jurors get paid for jury service?
Yes. The legislature sets juror fees. In a circuit court, a juror receives to $10 per day for the first and second day of service and $25 for any more days of service. Mileage reimbursement is $.20 per mile to travel to jury service in the circuit court. Juror pay is subject to income tax, but you need not report it for Social Security purposes. A juror receives payment for a full day if the juror arrives at the court to begin service, even if that person does not actually participate in trial or is excused after answering the roll call. The judge may order that food, drink, lodging or transportation be provided to a jury depending upon the case.
Generally, you must waive the juror fees if your employer pays your wages or salary for your days of jury service, even if you are using paid time off for the jury service.
Qualifications for Jury Service
Who is eligible for jury service?
Generally, any person who is at least 18 years old and is a U.S. citizen residing in the county when summoned. Many judicial districts use a written form to determine a person’s eligibility to serve as a juror.
Oregon law provides that “the opportunity for jury service shall not be denied or limited on the basis of race, national origin, gender, age, religious belief, income, occupation or any other factor that discriminates against a cognizable group in this state.”
If you need special help with a speech or hearing disability, you should submit a written request to the court. If the court finds that you need an interpreter or an assistive communication device, the court will provide the necessary services.
Who is not eligible for jury service?
Anyone who has served on jury duty in a state or federal court in Oregon within the last 24 months is not eligible. A person is also not eligible if he or she has been convicted of a felony and is in state prison, has received a suspended sentence conditioned on service of county jail time, or has had his or her probation revoked and must serve any portion of a suspended sentence.
For criminal trials only, a person may not serve on a jury if he or she has been convicted of a felony or served a felony sentence within the past 15 years. Further, no one convicted of a misdemeanor involving violence or dishonesty or having served a sentence for such a crime within the previous five years is eligible to serve as a juror on a criminal case. (This disqualification does not apply to serving on a jury for a civil case.)
May a person request jury service?
No. Special placement as a juror is at odds with the goal of random jury selection. It is illegal for any person to procure or offer to procure jury service for a person. A person may be fined for requesting or procuring jury service.
Length of Service
How many days will jury service last?
Each county sets a different amount of time for the juror’s term of service. Some counties ask you to serve for one trial only (or one day if you are not selected for trial or grand jury). In other counties you may serve for several trials during a two-week term. Some counties ask you to call the clerk’s office for a 30-day (or longer) term to determine when you must attend.
How are jurors selected for a particular trial?
First, the court clerk selects 15 to 35 prospective jurors at random from the larger jury pool. This smaller group of potential jurors goes to a courtroom. Each person’s name is placed on a separate slip of paper and put into a box. The clerk shakes the box to ensure a completely random selection of names. After the clerk mixes the slips, the clerk begins drawing names one at a time from the box. When the clerk draws an appropriate number of names, those potential jurors take an oath. This process may be done electronically in some courts. Once the names are selected, then the most important step in jury selection begins, which is called “voir dire.”
What is “voir dire?”
“Voir dire” (a French term) is the procedure for selecting a panel of jurors by asking them questions. Voir dire usually begins when the judge or the lawyers explain the nature of the case. The prospective jurors are then given an oath to truthfully answer any questions they may be asked. The judge may start by asking a few general questions. The judge usually asks whether anyone knows any of the people in the lawsuit and whether any jurors know anything about the lawsuit. The lawyers for the parties then take turns asking questions.
The lawyers will ask questions to learn about the prospective jurors’ backgrounds, attitudes, and general beliefs. Although such questions may seem intrusive, they are both proper and necessary. The parties have a legitimate reason to know as much as they can about the people who will decide their case.
Withholding information or failing to answer questions is a serious breach of the juror’s oath. If a person forgets and later remembers information about a question in jury selection, he or she should immediately tell the trial judge. Failure to bring new information to the judge’s attention may cause the trial to be restarted.
During questioning, if a lawyer believes that a prospective juror is not qualified to act as a juror, the lawyer will then say, “I challenge the juror for cause.” If the judge agrees with the reason given for the challenge, the court will excuse the juror. After all the questions and "for cause” challenges are completed, the lawyers on each side may use “peremptory challenges.”
Why would a juror be challenged “for cause?”
In Oregon, a judge may disqualify a juror “for cause” for any of the following reasons:
- A juror is not eligible to serve.
- A juror is not capable of performing his or her duties in a particular case without prejudicing a party because of a mental or physical condition.
- A juror is related by blood or marriage within the fourth degree to any party (or to the person alleged to have been injured by an alleged crime).
- A juror has an existing relationship with a party (or alleged crime victim).
- A juror is a partner in business with a party or is in an employment relation with any party.
- A juror has served as a juror on a previous trial in the same case, or in another case between the same parties for the same action, or in a case involving the same facts or transaction.
- A juror has an interest in the outcome of the action, or the principal question involved.
- A juror has “actual bias.”
What does “actual bias” mean? Can’t a juror have any opinions?
“Actual bias” means that the juror’s state of mind would interfere with his or her ability to try the issue impartially and without prejudice to the rights of a party. The state of mind may exist about the action, a party to the action, the sex of a party, the party’s attorney, a victim, a witness or a racial or ethnic group. Where a juror has an opinion on the merits of the case, perhaps from what he or she may have heard or read in the media, that opinion will constitute “actual bias” only when all of the circumstances indicate that the juror cannot disregard his or her own opinion and try the issue impartially.
What is a “peremptory” challenge?
Each party may excuse a certain number of jurors without giving a reason. These are “peremptory” challenges. There may be many different reasons why a lawyer for a party would challenge a juror without a stated cause. For example, in a criminal case, a lawyer might want to excuse people who have close friends or family in law enforcement. It is improper to use a peremptory challenge because of race, ethnicity, or sex.
Empaneling a Jury
After voir dire is completed and excused panelists are replaced, the remaining jurors in the box are “empaneled.” A second oath is given to the trial jury. The oath states that the jurors “will well and truly try the matter in issue between the plaintiff and defendant, and a true verdict given according to the law and evidence as given them on the trial.” If a person is unwilling to “swear” to an oath because of personal or religious beliefs, he or she may “affirm.” When a person affirms, he or she promises “under the pains and penalties of perjury” to carry out the functions undertaken as a juror.
Why do some juries have different numbers of jurors?
The size of the jury is determined by time limitations, strategy, the nature of the crime charged and the amount at stake. The “importance” of a case does not determine the size of the jury — a case on which six jurors sits may be more important than a case in which 12 sit. In some cases, alternate jurors may be selected to hear the evidence also. This is done in case the court needs to replace an empaneled juror due to illness or some other emergency. If none of the jurors are replaced, the alternates are excused when the jury retires to deliberate.
Who’s Who in the Courtroom
What are “parties” to a case?
The “parties” are the plaintiff (the person who starts the case) and the defendant (the person against whom the case is brought). In criminal cases the plaintiff is usually the state of Oregon, represented by a prosecutor from the District Attorney’s office.
What is the jury’s role?
The jury evaluates the evidence, determining how reliable it is and deciding what to believe. The jury decides what the facts are and then applies those facts to the law. The trial judge will provide instructions on what the law is.
What does the judge do?
The trial judge presides over the trial and decides what laws apply. The judge then instructs the jury about the correct law in each case. Although some people may claim that a jury can “nullify” the law, this is incorrect and severely prejudices the administration of justice. Jurors who disregard the trial judge’s instructions have violated their oath.
The Trial Process
After the jury is empanelled, the trial begins. The trial judge gives the jurors some preliminary instructions about the trial. Then the lawyer for each party makes an opening statement. The lawyer for the plaintiff (or prosecutor in a criminal case) usually speaks first. The opening statements often describe the factual contentions and the evidence that each party expects to present. The opening statements are not evidence. They are only outlines of what each party expects the evidence to show.
How is evidence presented to the jury?
The plaintiffs in the case call witnesses and question them. The questioning of a witness by the party who called the witness is “direct examination.” Each party has a right to ask questions of the witnesses of the other party. This is “cross-examination.” Usually the plaintiff first calls his or her witnesses. When a party has called all the witnesses that he or she wishes at that time, that party rests. If there is more than one plaintiff, the other plaintiff then calls witnesses and then rests. Then the defendant or defendants may call witnesses. This continues until all parties have rested. In a criminal case, the burden of proof is on the prosecution and the jury may not make any assumptions if the defendant does not call witnesses. After all parties rest, the plaintiff may call witnesses to respond to the defendant’s witnesses. This is “rebuttal testimony.” The defendant may then call rebuttal witnesses.
Why do lawyers make objections?
The lawyers may make objections to questions asked or evidence offered by the other side. This is part of the lawyer’s job. A lawyer may object to questions he or she believes to be improper under the rules of evidence.
If the judge agrees with an objection the judge will “sustain” the objection. If the judge does not agree with the objection the judge will “overrule” the objection. If the judge overrules and objection, the jury may consider the evidence. The judge’s ruling does not show favor for one side or one lawyer over the other. The rulings reflect only the judge’s determination of whether the questions asked are in proper form and what evidence may be considered by the jury under the rules of evidence.
What happens after the parties finish presenting the evidence?
After the parties present the evidence, the lawyers make closing arguments. In closing arguments, the lawyers try to summarize the evidence and persuade the jury to find in favor of their clients. The judge then gives the “charge,” or instructions, to the jury. These instructions define the issues that jurors must decide. When the judge has finished, the jurors retire to the jury room to deliberate the case.
Do parts of the trial occur outside the hearing of the jury?
Yes. Sometimes the judge may excuse the jury from the room so that a point of law or an objection can be argued. Sometimes the lawyers may speak with the judge out of the hearing of the jury. These brief conferences are often held at the judge’s bench to avoid the inconvenience of having the jury file out and in again.
Bench discussions are necessary for several reasons: 1) to simplify issues relating to the trial; 2) to enter stipulations that make it unnecessary for the jury to listen to time-consuming evidence when both sides agree about the facts; 3) to prevent a mistrial by discussing delicate areas in advance; and 4) to allow for careful consideration of legal points which, if decided incorrectly, could lead to appeal and retrial. Sometimes a case even reaches settlement during such conferences. While this may seem to be a waste of the jury’s time at the moment, a case that doesn’t need to be tried to a verdict saves time in the long run for the courts and for the jurors.
Conduct of Jurors During the Trial
How should jurors conduct themselves during the trial?
All jurors must be prompt. Each juror must hear all the evidence, and tardiness causes delay and inconvenience to the judge, the parties, the witnesses, the lawyers and the other jurors. As a juror you usually must sit in the same seat in the jury box throughout the trial to enable the judge, the clerk and the lawyers to identify you. Everyone in the courtroom rises when a court session begins and the judge enters the courtroom. Jurors should pay careful attention to all the evidence presented. You should notify the judge if you cannot hear a witness, lawyer or the judge.
May a juror discuss the trial before deliberation?
No. While you are a juror, and before you deliberate in the jury room, you should not talk to anyone about the case — not even another juror. Nor should you permit anyone to talk to you about the case. Even friendly chats with the lawyers, parties and witnesses must be avoided. You should not listen to radio or television accounts of the trial or read articles about it in the newspapers. You also should not talk to your friends or to members of your own family about the case while it is pending. If a person persists in talking to you about the trial, or attempts to influence you as a juror, you should report it to the judge immediately.
Are jurors allowed to ask questions?
Most questions that occur to you in the course of a trial are answered at some point later in the trial. Because there are rules about what can be considered evidence, there are restrictions on the types of questions asked of the witnesses. Some judges allow jurors to ask questions, usually in writing.
May a juror take notes during the trial?
Yes, jurors may take notes during the trial. If you choose to take notes, do not let it interfere with your ability to observe and evaluate witnesses. Keep in mind that each party is entitled to your full attention. During deliberation you should not give undue weight to another juror’s notes if those notes conflict with your recollection of the evidence. If you take notes, your notes should be left in the jury room at all times.
Is the jury usually sequestered or kept overnight?
No. Only in rare cases are members of the jury kept away from their homes during trial. You can leave to have lunch and to go home at night, but you cannot discuss the case with anyone — even with a family member.
What should a juror do if something improper occurs during the trial?
If you learn of something that the judge should know about you may ask to see the judge. You should send a message to the judge by the officer in charge of the jury, the bailiff or the clerk of the court.
Conduct in the Jury Room
How should jurors conduct their deliberations?
Upon retiring to the jury room to deliberate, the jury selects a presiding juror. It is the presiding juror’s duty to see that the deliberations are orderly and that the issues submitted for consideration are fully and fairly discussed. The presiding juror should make sure that every juror has a chance to say what he or she thinks on every question. When ballots need to be taken, the presiding juror should see that it is done. The presiding juror should sign any written request made of the judge.
How do jurors reach a verdict?
When you deliberate you should weigh the evidence calmly and fairly. Every juror should listen carefully and respectfully to the views of the other members of the jury and consider them with an open mind. You should not look up any information in books or dictionaries. You should not conduct any independent personal investigation. If you have special knowledge or information about any of the facts of a particular case, you should not communicate that information to other jurors. Jurors must bring to bear all the experience, common sense and common knowledge they have. They are not to rely on any private source of information. The jury’s verdict must be based only on the evidence and on the judge’s instructions on the law.
How is voting conducted by the jurors?
Your final vote should represent your own opinion. When differences of opinion arise between jurors, the jurors should say what they think and why they think it. You should not hesitate to change your viewpoint if your opinions change during deliberation. However, jurors must not try to force agreement. Jurors should not refuse to listen to the arguments and opinions of others and must not permit any decision to be reached by chance or the “toss of a coin.”
The number of jurors needed to agree upon a verdict will vary depending upon the number of persons sitting on the panel, whether it is a civil or a criminal case and the jurisdiction of the court. The judge will instruct you about the specific number of jurors that must agree upon the verdict.
What should a jury do once it has reached a verdict?
Once the jury has reached its verdict, the presiding juror completes and signs the verdict form. The judge will provide instructions explaining the verdict form. Once the verdict form is signed, the presiding juror should inform the bailiff or clerk. The entire jury panel will then re-enter the courtroom and deliver its verdict in open court. The judge may read the verdict, or the presiding juror may read the verdict. After the verdict is read, the lawyers may ask to “poll” the jury, and each individual member of the jury may be asked to confirm his or her vote for the record.
Provided by the lawyers and judges of the Oregon State Bar as a public service to the citizens who proudly serve as jurors in Oregon courts.
Legal Editor, Kevin Kress, May 2018