Saturday, May 15, 2010

American Cultural Observation 221 : Jury Duty!

The oddest thing happened to me… I got a summons for jury duty in the mail. Now keep in mind that I am a South African and thus not a citizen of the fair shores of the US… It made me realize that a) surely I am disqualified from serving on a jury and b) I have absolutely no knowledge of how a jury works apart from what I have seen on TV. Like a friend of mine said when I told him… “God help us”.

The reason I don’t know much about jury duty is because back home the lowest level of courts are known as Magistrate courts. The whole of the territory of South Africa is divided into approximately 350 magisterial districts, with each district having a District Magistrate's Court. These courts can hear civil cases where the value of the claim is no more than R100 000, and in criminal cases can impose a sentence of up to three years imprisonment and a fine of up to R60 000. The magistrates districts are arranged into regions with each region having a Regional Magistrate's Court, which handles more serious criminal cases and cam impose a sentence of up to 15 years imprisonment and a fine of up to R300 000. All is this is lorded over by a magistrate who is both judge and jury.

So, back to being a prospective juror… According to Wikipedia, a person who is serving on a jury is a juror and a jury is a sworn body of people convened to render an impartial verdict (a finding of fact on a question) officially submitted to them by a court, or to set a penalty or judgment. Modern juries tend to be found in courts to judge whether an accused person is not guilty or guilty of a crime. (There is no such verdict as 'innocent').

The old institution of Grand Juries, which are now rare, still exist in some places, particularly the United States, to investigate whether enough evidence of a crime exists to bring someone to trial.

The jury arrangement has evolved out of the earliest juries, which were found in early medieval England. Members were supposed to inform themselves of crimes and then of the details of the crimes. Their function was therefore closer to that of a grand jury than that of a jury in a trial.

Serving on a jury is normally compulsory for those individuals who are qualified for jury service. Since a jury is intended to be an impartial panel capable of reaching a verdict, there are often procedures and requirements, for instance, fluent understanding of the language, or the ability to test jurors or otherwise exclude jurors who might be perceived as less than neutral or more partial to hear one side or the other. Juries are initially chosen randomly from the eligible population residing in the court's jurisdictional area (unless a change of venue has occurred). Jury selection varies widely; in the United States, some form of organized questioning of the prospective jurors (jury pool) occurs—voir dire—before the jury is selected (impaneled).

A head juror is called the foreman or presiding juror. The foreman is often chosen before the trial begins or upon the beginning of deliberations. The role of the foreman is to ask questions on behalf of the jury, facilitate jury discussions, and sometimes to read the verdict of the jury. Since there is always the possibility of jurors not completing the trial for health or other reasons, often one or more alternate jurors are nominated. Alternates hear the trial but do not take part in deciding the verdict unless a juror is unable to deliberate.

Source: Wikipedia

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