The following was reprinted in part with permission of The Florida Bar. To order a free pamphlet on this subject send a self addressed, stamped legal size envelope to Consumer Pamphlets, The Florida Bar, 650 Apalachee Parkway, Tallahassee, Florida 32399-2300.
This article will help you understand the procedure in the courts of Florida and better enable you to do your part in administering justice.
You have been summoned to render important service as a juror. You enjoy the privileges of citizenship and the protection of your liberties and property by the government. Therefore, in return you have a duty as a citizen to participate in a very important aspect of our democracy- jury duty. For a short time you will, as a juror, serve as an officer of the court, along with the lawyers and the judges. As a juror, you are a part of the judicial system of our state and your services are as important as those of the judge. The judge's duty is to instruct you correctly as to the law in each case. You are required to base your verdict upon the evidence as you hear it in court and upon the law as the judge instructs you in it. You are obligated to perform this service honestly and conscientiously, without fear or favor.
If you are selected to sit as a trial (or petit) juror on a case, you will serve until that case is completed. If you are not selected as a trial juror, your service will be complete at the end of one day.
You should report to the proper location on the date and the hour stated in your summons. Jury management personnel will guide you through your jury service.
Once you are assigned to a courtroom, a bailiff will be available to direct and assist you. The bailiff is the deputy sheriff assigned to duty in the courtroom and will be present whenever the court is in session.
Unfortunately, delays are an unavoidable part of our judicial system. Judges and lawyers will make every effort to keep the cases moving along so that individual jurors will not be required to wait unnecessarily, but there will be idle time caused by unavoidable delays and other court-related matters. Thus, jurors are encouraged to use that time to catch up on reading, letter writing, needlework, or other activities which can be done with a minimum of noise.
Generally, you will be permitted to return home at the close of the day's session of court.
QUALIFICATIONS OF A JUROR
Jurors must be: 18 years old, Florida citizens and registered voters of their county of residence.
EXEMPTIONS FROM JURY DUTY
All persons who are summoned to serve as jurors must attend unless they have been excused by the court. Attendance is essential to the fair administration of justice. People who fail to respond to a jury summons without being properly excused can be fined up to $100 and in addition, held in contempt of court.
Disqualifications or excusals from jury service include:
Any expectant mother and any parent who is not employed full-time and who has custody of a child under six years of age, will be excused from jury service upon request.
A person may be excused from jury service upon showing of hardship, extreme inconvenience, or public necessity.
A person 70 years of age or older will be excused from jury service upon request.
A person who has served as a juror in his or her county of residence is automatically excused from jury duty for one year from their last day of service.
A presiding judge may, at his or her discretion, excuse a practicing attorney, a practicing physician or a person who is physically infirm from jury service.
No person interested in any issue to be tried shall be a juror. But no person will be disqualified from sitting on the trial of any suit in which the state. city or county is a party just because they live or pay taxes in the state, county or city.
A person cannot qualify for jury service if he or she is under prosecution for any crime, or who has been convicted in Florida, any federal court, or any other state, territory or country of bribery, forgery, perjury, larceny, or any other offense that is a felony in this state or, which if it had been committed in this state would be a felony (unless restored to civil rights).
The governor lieutenant governor, cabinet officers, clerks of court or judges cannot be a juror. In addition, any full-time federal, state. or local law enforcement officer or such entities' investigative personnel shall be excused from jury service unless such persons choose to serve.
PAYMENT FOR JURY DUTY AND EMPLOYEE RIGHTS
Effective July 1, 1993, jurors who are regularly employed and who continue to receive regular wages while serving as a juror are not entitled to receive compensation from the state for the first three days of juror service.
Jurors who are not regularly employed or who do not continue to receive regular wages while serving as a juror are entitled to receive $15 per day for the first three days of juror service.
Each juror who serves more than three days will be paid by the state for the fourth day of service and each day thereafter at the rate of $30 per day of service.
Juror service includes being summoned and reporting for jury service as well as actual service on a jury. Juror service does not include days when the juror was notified before ,reporting that it was not necessary to appear. Regular employment includes full-time employment and part-time, temporary. and casual employment, as long as the employment hours of a juror can be reasonably determined by a schedule or by custom and practice established during the 3 month period preceding the term of service as a juror.
Jurors are not entitled to additional reimbursement from the state for travel or other out-of-pocket expenses.
A juror who receives unemployment benefits does not lose such benefits because he or she receives compensation for juror service.
Any juror who is excused from jury service at the juror's own request is not entitled to receive any compensation.
LENGTH OF SERVICE
The length of the term of service for a petit juror shall not exceed 1 day, unless the juror is assigned to or impaneled on a trial that is not completed in 1 day or unless the court orders otherwise. This means if you are selected for a jury on the day you report for service, you will serve until that trial is completed. The average trial lasts about 3 days (although some are shorter and some are longer). If you are not selected as a juror on your first day, your service will be completed at the end of that day. Every effort will be made to release you as early in the day as possible after it is determined your services will not be needed.
TYPES OF TRIALS
Cases which come before a trial jury are divided into two general classes: civil and criminal.
In a civil trial, parties in dispute come into court to determine and settle their respective rights. The person who brings an action against another is the "plaintiff: The person against whom the action is brought is the defendant."
In a criminal trial, the persons bringing the action are the people of the State of Florida, represented by the "prosecutor." The "defendant" is a person or corporation accused of a violation of law.
THE QUESTIONING OF JURORS
There may be many reasons why a person originally on the jury panel might not be considered a wholly fair and impartial juror in the particular case about to be tried. The prospective juror might be closely related to one of the parties in the case. The prospective juror may subconsciously have some prejudice regarding the type of case to be tried that would tend to make him or her a less than desirable juror for the case. 1f a juror thinks he or she may be unsuitable for any reason, whether or not the matter is brought out by questions directly asked, the juror should rise and tell judge and the lawyer about it.
A juror may be excused "for cause" when the judge is of the opinion that the juror cannot render a fair and impartial verdict. The attorneys can also exercise a limited number of "peremptory challenges," by which they may excuse a juror without stating any reason. If a juror is challenged or excused, it is not a reflection on the juror in any way. That a juror is excused means simply that in the particular case it is proper and lawful to excuse him or her.
IMPORTANT THINGS TO REMEMBER DURING THE TRIAL
After you are sworn as a juror in a case, there are some rules of conduct which you should observe:
Don't be late for court sessions.
Always sit in the same seat in the jury box. This enables the judge, the clerk and the lawyers to identify you more easily.
Listen to every question and answer.
Don't talk about the case.
Don't be an "amateur detective." Since the only evidence you can consider is that presented in court, you are not allowed to make an independent investigation or to visit any of the places involved in the case.
Control your emotions. You should not indicate, by exclamation, facial contortion, or any other expression, how any evidence or any incident of the trial affects you.
If you are in doubt about your rights or duties as a juror, you should not ask anyone but the judge for information. If an emergency affecting your service should arise, consult the judge about it.
Blair & Prather PA, 2138-40 Hoople Street, Fort Myers, Florida