Trials by jury have been an important part of the American legal system for over two centuries. They are an integral part of the laws which protect the fundamental rights of all citizens. Jury duty is an important and rewarding service which you are summoned to provide the Court for your county. Through your service, the people of Southern Judicial Circuit participate directly in the administration of justice.
The Superior Court Clerk in each county also acts as the Jury Clerk for each county. General questions about your service should be directed to the Clerk's Office.
A jury trial involves many people, directly or indirectly. The Judge, Attorneys, Parties, Witnesses, and Jurors are all direct participants in the courtroom proceedings. The following is a description of their roles:
The Judge is an elected or appointed official who administers proceedings between the parties. The Judge conducts the trial, rules on questions of law raised by the attorneys, and, at the close of the trial, instructs the jury on the law that applies to the case.
Attorneys represent clients in criminal and civil litigation and other legal proceedings, draw up legal documents, and manage or advise clients on legal transactions. May specialize in a single area or may practice broadly in many areas of law.
The District Attorney is an elected official who is the prosecutor for the state in criminal cases and represents a victim of crime.
The parties in a civil trial are the plaintiff and the defendant; in a criminal trial, they are the state, represented by the district attorney or prosecutor, and the defendant.
Witnesses present testimony under oath regarding what they have seen or know about the facts in the case. A witness may testify as an expert based on professional experience.
Usually, others indirectly involved provide essential services but are not active trial participants.
The Court's business manager is the Clerk of Court. This elected official is responsible for court records, issuing summonses and subpoenas, collecting Court-ordered monies, and conducting other business activities.
The Sheriff, as an elected official, is the county's chief law enforcement officer. The Sheriff serves summonses on witnesses, jurors, and defendants and provides court security.
The Court Administrator assists the Judge(s) in performing court administrative activities.
The Court Reporter records a word-for-word account of all court testimony and proceedings and, in the event of an appeal and upon request of one or both of the parties, will transcribe the record into a written transcript.
The Court Bailiff maintains courtroom order and assists jurors.
Sequence of Trial Events
1. Opening Statements
2. Plaintiff's or State's Case
3. Defendant's Case
5. Closing Arguments
6. Judge's Charge to the Jury
7. Jury Deliberations
The opening statements are made at the beginning of the trial and outline the facts expected to be presented to the jury. Opening statements are not evidence but are only explanations of what each side expects the evidence to prove. After the opening statements from both sides, the plaintiff's or state's case is presented in the form of evidence. This presentation is intended to prove the claims made. Evidence can be testimony given by a witness at trial or a physical exhibit such as a gun or a photograph. The presentation of the case begins with the plaintiff's or the district attorney's direct examination of a witness. Direct examination discloses points important to the case. Next, the defendant's attorney may cross-examine the witness to disclose facts favoring the defendant; the defendant's attorney may demonstrate there is reason to doubt the testimony given by the witness on direct examination. Upon completion of cross-examination, the plaintiff's attorney or district attorney may, on redirect examination, clarify statements previously made by the witness. The defendant's case is presented after the plaintiff's or state's case. The defendant's case presentation follows the same format as the plaintiff's or state's case. After the defendant's case, the plaintiff or state may present rebuttal witnesses or evidence designed to disprove the testimony and evidence presented by the defendant.
Closing arguments follow evidence presentation, at which time both sides summarize the case from their viewpoint. Closing arguments are not evidence but are the attorneys' summaries of the evidence presented during the trial.
The Judge's charge to the jury follows closing arguments. The charge instructs the jury on the issues to be decided and the rules of law that apply to the case. After listening to the Judge's oral charge, the jury retires to begin jury deliberations. Selection of a foreman is the jury's first duty. This person presides over the discussion of the case, acting as chairman and spokesman for the jury.
Jury deliberations generally conclude when a unanimous verdict has been reached. If the jury is unable to agree upon a verdict after lengthy deliberations, the foreman must notify the Judge. If the jury cannot reach a verdict, referred to as "deadlock," a mistrial must be declared and a new jury impaneled to try the case over.
After reaching a verdict, the foreman records the verdict and calls for the Bailiff to escort the jury to the courtroom. The verdict may be read by the Judge, Clerk, or Foreman.
A Juror's Responsibilities
As a juror, there are certain responsibilities you will be asked to fulfill.
A JUROR MUST BE PROMPT.
A trial cannot begin or continue unless all jurors are present.
A JUROR MUST NOT RESEARCH THE CASE THROUGH BROADCAST AND NEWSPAPER ACCOUNTS.
A juror may not listen to radio or television accounts concerning the trial, or read articles about the trial. During a trial, if a juror has personal knowledge about any facts in the case, the juror has a duty to disclose his/her knowledge to the Judge. A person who knows a fact which could materially affect the case should not serve as a juror.
A JUROR MUST NOT DISCUSS THE CASE WITH ANYONE, INCLUDING RELATIVES, FRIENDS, OR TRIAL PARTICIPANTS.
Once selection of a jury begins, a potential juror should not discuss the case with anyone. After deliberations begin, a juror can discuss the case only with the other jurors. If someone attempts to talk to a juror, (s)he should report to the Judge. However, after the trial has concluded, a juror may discuss the case with anyone, but the juror is not obligated to do so.
A JUROR MUST NOT CONDUCT INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATIONS OR EXPERIMENTS TO VERIFY TESTIMONY GIVEN IN THE CASE.
The jury's verdict can only be based upon evidence presented in court. If the
Court finds it necessary for the jury to inspect the scene of an accident or alleged crime, the Judge will arrange for the entire jury to do so together. Thus, a juror must not conduct investigations or experiment by himself/herself.
A JUROR MUST BE IMPARTIAL UNTIL (S)HE HEARS ALL THE EVIDENCE AND LAW APPLICABLE TO THE CASE.
A juror should listen to the evidence presented by both sides carefully and avoid "taking sides" until (s)he has an opportunity to hear all the evidence and the Judge's instructions as to the law applicable to that particular case.
Frequently Asked questions concerning Jury Duty
1. What is a traverse jury?
The traverse jury is a trial jury impaneled to hear evidence in a civil or criminal case.
2. Is my employer supposed to pay me while I am here serving?
Under Georgia law, an employer cannot penalize an employee attending Court in response to a summons for jury duty, Official Code of Georgia § 34-1-3 (c). Further, a 1989 Georgia Attorney General's Opinion states "an employee is entitled to be paid his or her salary while missing work to serve on jury duty," (Opinion of the Attorney General Number 89-55).
3. How old do you have to be before you don't have to serve anymore?
Persons aged 70 or above may sign an affidavit available in the Clerk of Court's office asking that their name be removed from the jury list.
4. How are the jurors picked?
Jurors are picked randomly from a list eligible citizens maintained by the County Board of Jury Commissioners. The Court notifies the Clerk of how many jurors are needed for a particular week of court. Utilizing the list of potential jurors, a computer randomly selects the required number of citizens needed for the service that week.
5. Are the jurors picked from the Voters list?
The voter list is just one of several sources used by the Jury Commission to make up the jury list of eligible citizens. Other sources are the Department of Motor Vehicle (Driver's License list), church membership lists, high school annuals, etc.
6. How do I get my name out of the jury box?
In Georgia, no citizen otherwise eligible for jury duty is exempt from jury service. Individuals aged 70 or older are the only ones allowed to request the removal of their name from the jury box. However, any person called to jury duty may request a deferral of service to another date.
7. How much do I get paid?
Jurors are paid an expense allowance which is set annually by each county's Grand Jury.
8. How should I dress?
Wear comfortable clothing which reflects the seriousness of jury service. Shorts are prohibited.
9. What is the difference between a traverse jury and a grand jury?
A traverse jury is generally composed of 12 people impaneled to try a criminal or civil case. In a criminal trial, the jury must determine whether the state has presented proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. In a civil trial, the jury will decide all questions of fact and shall determine whether the plaintiff has a valid complaint and should be awarded the relief requested.
A grand jury is composed of not less than 16 nor more 23 people to hear evidence and to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to formally charge the defendant with committing a crime and to require an accused to stand trial. The grand jury does not determine the accused's quilt or innocense.
10. How long do I have to be there?
Jury duty usually lasts one week. If your services are not needed on a particular day during the week you are summoned, you will be excused and told when to return. Some trials may last longer than one week, and jurors assigned to those cases will, of necessity, be required to continue to serve until the conclusion of the trial.