In New York, you can get called for jury duty every four years.
In civil court, jury duty involves participating in civil lawsuits where most people are seeking money as a form of compensation.
It could be an accident case.
It could be a wrongful death case.
It could be a medical malpractice case.
When you're called in for jury duty, you arrive in the court house in a very large room along with other members of the public.
Trial lawyers refer to this as the 'Main' jury room.
You've all been called to serve jury duty.
You have all received a beautifully worded summons commanding you to appear in court on this date.
"YOU ARE HEREBY ORDER TO APPEAR FOR JURY DUTY AT THE COURT HOUSE LOCATED AT 89-11 SUTPHIN BLVD, JAMAICA, NY ON THE 25th DAY OF AUGUST, 2016."
Some will read.
Some will be on their laptops.
Some will be on their smartphones checking email.
You do what you can to spend your time sitting in a big room just waiting.
Waiting to be called.
Called into a tiny, windowless room.
Trial lawyers call this the jury room.
With a bunch of strangers.
With a couple of attorneys wearing suits and carrying leather briefcases.
Unless you have been through this process before, you don't know what's going to happen.
You've read the jury duty booklet.
Unless you have other reading, it's like being in your doctor's office.
You're not really interested in the reading material, but you read something to pass the time.
You might have seen a short jury duty video while waiting.
It almost resembles waiting in an airport.
The only difference is that there is not much scenery, no airplanes taking off and landing and the overhead announcements are kept to a minimum.
If you happen to be called into a small jury room, it means that there is a possibility you will get onto a case as a juror.
It means the jury clerk has randomly pulled 25-30 names from that big waiting room and now you are going in to hear some details about a particular case.
The attorneys in that room don't know you.
They don't know anything about you.
Nor do you know anything about them or the people they represent.
You don't know what type of case it is...yet.
The attorneys will begin by introducing themselves.
The attorney who represents the injured victim, is known as the plaintiff's attorney.
He will be the master of ceremonies at first.
The court officer or jury clerk hands your cards with each name on it to the attorneys.
The attorneys will literally take that stack of cards and dump them into a bin.
The bin has a little door to close and an attorney will use the handle to spin the bin around and around.
This will mix up the cards that were just dumped in there.
One attorney will then reach in and pull out six random names from the bin.
Those called will be asked to sit in the first six chairs at the front of the room.
Lawyers call this 'the jury panel' or 'the hot seats'.
The plaintiff's attorney will then introduce himself and begin explaining.
He will explain that he represents the injured patient.
He will explain that this is a medical malpractice case where his client has brought a lawsuit against her doctor.
She claims that her doctor was careless and caused her permanent injury.
He will tell you the names of the litigants to see if you know any of them.
He might also tell you the names of his experts who are likely medical experts to see if you know them.
If you're familiar with these people, you might lean in favor of them.
It does not automatically prevent you from being a juror on this case, but it gives him a better understanding of your possible bias.
Attorneys want to know if you are prejudiced or biased.
If an attorney comes right out and ask you if you are prejudiced, I can tell you that ten times out of ten, it will be a young, inexperienced attorney.
The reason you do not ask potential jurors if they are prejudiced is that no one ever will admit, especially in a room full of strangers, that you are prejudiced.
Even amongst friends or family, it is difficult to admit that you harbor a bias or prejudice in favor of one person or another.
The attorney who represents the injured patient wants to learn about your background.
He wants to see if you had experience with lawsuits before.
He wants to know whether you had good or bad experiences with your doctors or hospitals.
He wants to see if there is a common bond you might have either with him or his client.
He wants to know if you might lean in favor of a doctor or a hospital.
There are no right or wrong answers during jury selection.
In reality, it should be called jury de-selection.
Let me tell you what I mean...
After both attorneys have an opportunity to speak to the first six potential jurors, each lawyer does not decide which jurors they want on the jury.
Instead the attorneys remove those jurors who are not right for this case.
In other words, we actually remove jurors who are not be ideal for us.
Each attorney is limited to the number of people he can remove during the jury selection process.
Typically, in a medical malpractice case where there is only one attorney for each side, each lawyer will have three opportunities to remove people they feel are not ideal for this case.
Legally, those opportunities are known as peremptory challenges.
This allows an attorney to excuse a juror from this jury room without explaining to anyone why this juror was taken off this panel.
Once an attorney has used up all three of those opportunities, he no longer can remove a juror without giving a reason.
Instead, he will have to come up with a specific reason why a potential juror is not the right one for this case.
Legally, that's known as a “challenge for cause.”
If the defense lawyer does not agree with the plaintiff's attorney to remove a particular juror after he gives a legal reason, the issue must be addressed with the judge in charge of jury selection for this case.
Each attorney makes a brief oral argument to the judge.
The judge will then make a snap decision about whether this person will or will not remain as a juror.
An attorney's goal during jury selection is to conserve each one of those valuable peremptory challenges and only use them when absolutely necessary.
Here's the way I look at jury selection...
It's as if potential jurors are applying for a job.
They get this crazy summons in the mail that tells them they must appear in this court house in an inconvenient location.
They are told to arrive at a particular time and are told to then hurry up and wait in a big room.
Many times jurors sit around all day doing nothing.
If they are not called into a jury room by the end of the day, some courts will dismiss you from jury duty for the next four years.
Like with any job, you will be asked to fill out a questionnaire.
In New York, this is typically a one or two page questionnaire that asks about your employment, your hobbies, your education and some other demographic information.
The purpose of this questionnaire is so that when you get called into a small jury room to talk to attorneys, the attorneys can review this quickly without having to ask you all these questions to obtain this information.
Ideally it's supposed to cut down the time attorneys spend probing your background.
Once all attorneys have agreed on which jurors are not ideal for them, the remaining jurors will have been 'chosen' to sit in judgment on your case.
The jury clerk will give you instructions on when to return to court based upon when the judge says the trial will start.
It might be that day.
It might be the next morning.
The attorneys then must meet with the judge to finalize any legal issues that might arise before starting trial.
To learn even more about what happens in jury selection here in NY, I invite you to watch the quick video below...