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Welcome to jury service. Most people call it jury duty but it's really a service. A service to your fellow citizens in both North Carolina and your community. You're being asked to make decisions that affect the civil or property rights of others'. You may be asked to help determine someone's right to freedom. Your contribution is invaluable to the court. Without your cooperation, the court system could not administer fair and efficient service.
Jury service is at the heart of the American system of justice, where citizens participate directly in the legal process. Indeed, it is part of our democratic tradition.
We have settled legal disputes by jury trials for over 200 years, which means you are now part of a long-standing historical tradition of which you can be especially proud.
Jury service typically lasts for one week, although you may not actually serve the entire week. Your length of service will be explained to you by the judge or the clerk of court, as it may vary by county. It might happen that during your service as a juror, you may never be called upon to actually sit on the trial of a case. However, your presence and availability is a contribution of great importance.
As you prepare for jury service, it's important to understand how the court system is organized.
North Carolina has a unified state court system. This means that the courts function the same way in all counties.
Whether you are serving as a juror in Halifax County or Mecklenburg or Cherokee the way the court is structured, the personnel involved and the judicial process are the same. This unified system is called the General Court of Justice.
The General Court of Justice is made up of different divisions: Magistrates, District Court, Superior Court and the Appellate Courts.
Magistrates issue processes and hear small claims cases. The District Court and the Superior Court make up the trial courts. Their function is to consider evidence in cases and make judgments based on the facts and evidence presented, the appropriate laws and on legal precedents.
The District Court hears civil, juvenile, domestic and misdemeanor criminal cases. Only civil cases are tried before a jury in District Court. Other cases are heard solely by a judge.
The Superior Court has general trial jurisdiction over civil cases, misdemeanor cases appealed from District Court and felony criminal trials. Jury trials in superior court are held in every county of the state.
The Appellate Courts are made up of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. They are both located in Raleigh, and cases in these courts are heard by a panel of judges. These courts determine whether the law has been applied correctly in cases that have been appealed from the trial courts and, it's the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who serves as the administrative head of the entire court system.
And how were you chosen for jury service?
At least every two years, an independent Jury Commission in your county prepares a master jury list of qualified citizens. The Commission uses the list of registered voters and people with driver's license records from your county as sources for their jury list. Your name was chosen at random from this master list.
There are, however, several legal qualifications you must meet in order to be a juror.
- You must be a citizen of North Carolina and a current resident of this county.
- You must be at least 18 years old and physically and mentally competent.
- You cannot have been convicted of a felony, or have pleaded guilty or "no contest" to a felony charge. If your citizenship rights have been restored, however, you may serve as a juror.
- You cannot have served as a juror anytime during the last two years.
- You must be able to understand the English language.
Keep in mind that you cannot be fired or demoted from your job for serving as a juror. Your time as a juror is a service you are providing to our State. While you could never be fully compensated for this valuable service, you will receive a payment that is set by the North Carolina General Assembly.
If this is your first time serving as a juror, you may not be familiar with the jobs of the people who work in the courtroom.
The judge presides over the trial and is responsible for ruling on all questions of law and court procedure. At the end of the trial, the judge will give you instructions on the law as it applies to the case you've just heard.
The deputy or assistant clerk of superior court is responsible for administering oaths to witnesses and jurors and for keeping the Court's records.
CLERK: "You may be seated"
The court reporter records everything that is said in the courtroom during the trial, verbatim. This person provides an exact record of all proceedings.
The bailiff is a deputy sheriff who enforces the Court's orders and maintains security. If any emergency or any personal need arises during the trial, tell the bailiff.
Seated in front of the judge's bench are the attorneys. In a civil trial, which is a dispute between two or more parties, there is a plaintiff and attorney at one table and a defendant and attorney at the other. The plaintiff is the person making the accusation against another party, the defendant or defendants. A civil case usually involves a claim for money damages or some claim with respect to property.
In criminal cases, which include both felonies and misdemeanors, the attorneys are the defense attorney and the District Attorney, or DA. The DA has the responsibility to prosecute criminal cases on behalf of the citizens of your county when an individual is charged with a crime. The defense attorney represents the defendant, the person who has been charged with the crime.
Witnesses are the people who may be called by either side to testify under oath about some issue in a civil or criminal dispute.
And of course, there is you, the juror. It is your duty to decide what the most credible facts are after hearing the evidence presented during the trial. You need no special training to be a juror, only good, old-fashioned common sense. Listen carefully to the witnesses. Are they telling the truth? Are they credible? Accurate? Consistent? Just use the same tests of truthfulness you use with people everyday.
At this point, you are considered a potential juror, which means you may or may not end up serving on a trial. A trial actually begins with the selection of the jury. The judge and attorneys will question you about your background and attitudes. They want to know if you have any prior knowledge of the case or if you've had an experience that might keep you from being completely fair and impartial in deciding the facts of the case. The questions you are asked might seem personal, but they're necessary to ensure that the most impartial jurors will be chosen. A potential juror might not be chosen to serve on a trial for many reasons so if you are excused, please do not take it personally or feel offended by the decision.
Once a jury has been selected or seated, each attorney makes an opening statement to the jurors. Remember these statements are not evidence. They are only presentations of what each side intends to prove to you during the trial.
After opening statements, evidence will be presented. Evidence is something that may prove or disprove a person's claim or allegation, and may include a witness's testimony, photographs, documents or letters. Witnesses are first examined by the attorney that called them. This is called direct examination. After direct examination, the other attorney questions the witness. This is called cross examination.
Pay close attention to what each witness says. Also, watch the witness's mannerisms and expressions. Do you believe this person is telling the truth? Do you believe this person is accurate? Your verdict may depend on whom you do or do not believe.
During the course of the trial, motions and objections relating to evidence, points of law or procedures may be made. At times, the judge may need to call the attorneys for both sides up to the bench to discuss questions about technical points of law or courtroom procedures. The judge alone must decide what is right or wrong in these instances, which is why the jury is not allowed to hear what the attorneys are discussing. In fact, the jury may be excused or a recess called while a judge makes a ruling.
Also, there may be times that you will hear something that is objected to by the other party. In applying the law, the judge must determine whether to allow this statement into evidence, or omit it, in which case you will be instructed to ignore or disregard what you have heard. If the judge ever instructs you to disregard certain evidence presented, you must not consider it during your deliberation at the end of the trial.
During the course of the trial, you must carefully follow all instructions given to you by the judge. The judge's instructions might include, but are not limited, to the following:
- You should not talk to any of the parties involved in the trial, including witnesses and lawyers about any aspect of the case. If anyone tries to talk to you about the case, report it to the bailiff immediately.
- You should not speak to reporters about the case or read newspapers, watch television or listen to radio accounts of the trial until the case is over. Once a verdict is reached and you are dismissed by the judge, you are free to discuss the case with anyone, but you are under no obligation to do so.
- You should not visit the scene of the crime or dispute unless it is under court supervision. By law, you must consider the case as presented by those who investigated at the time the crime or dispute occurred.
After all evidence has been introduced, the attorneys give final or closing arguments. These are summaries of their cases. Again, such statements are not considered evidence.
After closing arguments, the judge will instruct you on the law that applies to the case. There are different degrees of proof required in civil and criminal cases. In a civil case, the burden of proof is by the "greater weight of the evidence", or which side presented the most convincing case. However, in a criminal case, the state must prove the defendant's guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt." The judge will explain in detail what the burden of proof is in the case you will hear. Pay close attention. You must understand and apply the law as the judge gives it to you, not as you think it is or would like for it to be.
After the judge's instructions, you will be taken by the bailiff to the jury deliberation room. Your first job will be to choose a foreperson. This person will preside over discussions during your deliberations and speak for you in the courtroom. The foreperson should make sure that the discussion is free enough for ideas to be shared but orderly enough for each person to be heard. Give real consideration to the opinions of others because in North Carolina, a verdict requires a unanimous vote. This means that everyone must agree. In determining your verdict, consider all the evidence presented, the weight of the evidence, as well as opening and closing statements made by the attorneys, and the credibility of witnesses. Then make up your own mind.
When a verdict has been reached, the foreperson tells the bailiff. You will then be escorted back into the courtroom to announce your decision. Do not tell the bailiff or anyone else what the verdict is until the judge asks for it in open court.
Occasionally, after the verdict has been presented, one of the parties may ask for the jury to be "polled".
JUDGE: "Madam clerk, will you poll this jury."
CLERK: "Members of the jury.."
Each juror will be asked, individually and in court, if the verdict announced was his or her verdict and if it is still his or her verdict.
CLERK: "Was this your verdict?"
CLERK: "Is it still your verdict?"
If you have any questions about what you have seen on this video or any questions in general about your jury service, please ask the clerk of court, the Bailiff or the judge. Your service to the court system, our State and to your fellow citizens is very important. Pay attention to the facts, use common sense and share opinions with your fellow jurors during the deliberation process. Your participation will help to ensure that everyone's rights are protected and that justice will be served. Thank you for your time and contribution to our judicial system.