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US jury trial: how to become a member of the jury or refuse to participate in the process

Jurors listen carefully to defense representatives. Photo: depositphotos.com

Jurors listen carefully to defense representatives. Photo: depositphotos.com

Almost any citizen can become a juror in the USA. The system of courts with the participation of the people's jury has existed for many centuries. Today, ordinary Americans are considering about 80% of civil and criminal cases. The right to administer justice is guaranteed by the 6 and 7 amendments to the US Constitution.

ForumDaily talks about how a jury trial is being conducted, what cases are considered by the people's jury and how to officially refuse to participate in the process.

What does the juror do

Svetlana Pascher immigrated to the US 13 years ago. She works as a tutor in Russian and French in New York. In 2015, a woman received an American passport and immediately became a potential candidate for a jury panel. Last July, Svetlana received a subpoena.

Svetlana Pashert had heard about the jury trial before, but in order to directly participate in the trial, the Brooklyn resident was clearly not ready for such a turn of events. According to the woman, she was even a little scared. Svetlana immediately filled out the questionnaire sent to her and sent a letter to the New York court. Among the questions were: Do you know English, are you a US citizen, are you 18 years old, have you been convicted, have you lived in New York State for the last 6 years?

Here is the questionnaire, which is sent to potential assessors. Photos from the personal archive

Here is the questionnaire, which is sent to potential assessors. Photos from the personal archive

After about 2 of the week, Svetlana received a second letter with a date when she needed to appear in court.

“I went to court in Brooklyn. She showed me the paper, and they took me to the office, where there were still 20 people, ”says Svetlana.

Svetlana Pascher did not even think that she was to participate in the jury trial. Photo by Denis Cheredov

Svetlana Pascher did not even think that she was to participate in the jury trial. Photo by Denis Cheredov

The representative of the court took turns calling each of them for a private conversation. The conversation began with the pronouncement of an oath. According to Svetlana, she was asked several questions about the work and, most importantly, they clarified whether there were any reasons to refuse to participate in the process.

“I replied that I work all the time, but the representative of the court did not even react to this. She said that, they say, being on a jury is the duty of a US citizen, ”says Pashert.

Svetlana recalls that after a tete-a-tete conversation, several people left the court. Then those who remained were taken to the meeting. As it turned out later, it was a rehearsal. Potential jurors had to understand the essence of a trial case for them about a medical error. After going to court, Svetlana Pashert returned to normal life. A month later, she was sent a paper with a schedule according to which she was to be in court. Within 5 days, from 9 am to 5 pm, she had to come to court as to work - at any time she could be involved in the case under consideration as a jury.

And now Svetlana was invited to the trial. Before the meeting began, she took an oath and received instructions from the judge - brief information about the case and examples of legislative acts that could be applied to this case.

According to the investigation, two young residents of the Bronx committed theft of clothes in a supermarket. Things the defendants tried to endure, putting on themselves. This case would not have come to court if it were not 5-theft committed by teenagers. The owner of the store demanded not only to find the young people guilty, but also to compensate the supermarket with $ 2 thousands. Svetlana and another 11 jury members needed to determine the amount of compensation.

“At the very meeting, we listened to the representative of the prosecutor's office and lawyers who defended the teenagers. They said that these people were allegedly poor and therefore went to steal. We sat in the hall for more than 2 hours, ”says Svetlana.

After the meeting, the jury went to a separate office and discussed the details for about an hour. By law, if judges consider a criminal case, they must make a unanimous decision. Exceptions are allowed only in the states of Oregon and Louisiana. If even one assessor does not agree with the majority, the case is sent for review. In civil matters, about a third of the states allow a decision by a majority vote.

In the case of Svetlana, everything was decided quickly. The people's judges decided to pay a thousand dollars in compensation to the injured party. Svetlana's participation in the court ended there. After about 2 weeks, she received a salary - her work in a jury was estimated at $ 40 per day.

How to refuse to participate in the process

You can refuse to participate in a jury trial. Photo: nyjuror.gov

You can refuse to participate in a jury trial. Photo: nyjuror.gov

In America, there are federal and local (that is, statewide) jury courts. Summonses come from both instances. Every year about 27% of US citizens receive so-called invitations, which give the right to become a participant in the process of the national jury, reports Jury Trial Research Center. If you received an official letter from the jury, then you must answer it. Otherwise, you will have to pay a fine from $ 1000 to $ 1500, depending on the state. For failure to appear, they can even be arrested. In New York and Virginia, you can be assigned community service or sent to jail on the 3 day.

On the Online US courts published criteria for selecting a jury in a federal court:

- be a US citizen;

- live within the territory under the jurisdiction of this court;

- speak English;

- not have a criminal record.

However, initially, almost all residents of the United States who legally reside in the country fall into the jury’s base. Personal information about a citizen is sent to the jury automatically when you receive a social security number, ID, driver's license or social assistance from the state. Employees can also get information about employees from the employer. Then the candidates are selected by lottery.

Each year, about 1,5 million US residents participate in a jury trial. The latest statistics have been published on the site. National Center of Courts. About 3 million people the court summons was ignored and did not fulfill their civic duty in 2009 year.

People of various professions and nationalities take part in the jury trial. Photo: depositphotos.com

People of various professions and nationalities take part in the jury trial. Photo: depositphotos.com

In the first letter that you receive from the court, you need to answer the questionnaire and send it by mail yourself. Do not forget to buy and glue the stamp on the envelope - otherwise the letter will not reach the addressee. Very often invitations come to green card holders. In this case, it is enough to answer that you are not yet a US citizen.

This is exactly what a New York resident and green card holder Marina Baranchuk did.

“Holders of green cards cannot participate in the court hearing, so I sighed with joy, ticked the appropriate item in the questionnaire, attached proof that I was not yet a US citizen, and sent the questionnaire to the specified address,” says Marina.

However, Marina Baranchuk’s relationship with the court did not end there. Later, she still received an American passport. And in a few months, and another invitation to the court. At that time, Marina gave birth to a daughter, so she had a good reason at that time to refuse to participate in the jury. On official paper, an empty space is specifically allocated where a potential candidate can state in writing the reason for the non-appearance.

Marina Baranchuk shows daughter New York. Photos from the personal archive

Marina Baranchuk shows daughter New York. Photos from the personal archive

“I literally described my family situation in a few words. The presence of an infant is a valid reason for exemption from the jury procedure, although this is not written in plain text in the letter, ”says Marina.

However, a New York jury did not respond to Marina’s response. New agendas began to come the girl almost every week. To put an end to this story, Marina decided to go to court herself.

Marina met several other people in the courthouse. The future jurors were taken to the office and showed a video about what a people's jury in the US is and why citizens are obliged to do their duty.

After that, several people, including Marina, asked the court officer for a withdrawal.

“It was enough for me to say that I have a small child and to provide his birth certificate. But I didn't have the official paper, so they just took my word for it and asked only to send a copy of the certificate by mail as soon as possible, ”adds Marina.

She kept her promise and sent a copy of the child’s birth certificate to the court. According to the doctor of jurisprudence of the United States Ismail Shakhtakhtinsky, there can be many reasons for disqualification from a jury. However, they must be very weighty.

“For example, you are very sick. Then you will need to provide a doctor's note. Or, you cannot leave a seriously ill family member. If you say that you are working or cannot leave your business, you will be refused. Such examples are not considered respectful, and you have to be on the jury, ”says the lawyer.

Why do we need a jury trial

Lawyer Ismail Shakhtakhtinsky has a positive attitude towards the jury system in the United States. He believes that it is the people's jury who can objectively assess the case and make the right decision. Jury trials in the United States are sometimes even called "human."

Lawyer Ismail Shahtahtinsky. Photos from the personal archive

Lawyer Ismail Shahtahtinsky. Photos from the personal archive

“The jury evaluates the facts. That is, representatives of society decide how to punish someone. Many civil cases are considered from the point of view of expediency and reasonableness of the actions of the accused. The jury is answering the question of how the average citizen would act in a given situation, ”the lawyer gives his point of view.

According to lawyer Shakhtakhtinsky, completely different people are socially and professionally involved in the jury trial. This allows for a more objective approach to the details of the case.

“The judge may have some predisposition towards a certain side. Besides, he is alone. The jury is large and does not need to know the laws. They follow general guidelines and guidelines for a particular case, ”he says.

A judge at the jury selection stage distributes special questionnaires to candidates. In them, the court is interested in the applicants with specific information. For example, if it comes to financial fraud, then there may be such questions: are there businessmen in your family, did you own a large firm, or did you face a non-payment of mortgage. All these questions are asked so that the juror, when considering a particular case, does not have the opportunity to stand on one side or the other.

So, the famous American did not pass the jury selection. singer Taylor Swift. She had to take part in a domestic violence case. But the judge was forced to refuse the star, because Swift herself was involved in a similar story, when she accused the DJ from Colorado of sexual harassment.

In general, the judge may ask the most unexpected questions. Journalists The New York Times brought examples: in court you may be interested in what book you are reading right now, whether you like the site PerezHilton.comwhat your parents do, whether you have done anesthesia or have you ever played the lottery. It all depends on the case. The judge must be confident in your impartiality in the consideration of a case.

The jury is considering a large number of different cases. The most common processes are criminal proceedings, road traffic accidents, commercial disputes and contract disputes. According to Shakhtakhtinsky's lawyer, the jury cannot deal with divorce proceedings and cases directly related to the interpretation of the law and the US Constitution.

Any party to the lawsuit may ask the judge to consider the case by the jury. This right is guaranteed by the constitution.

“Only in some states there are no juries in the first instance courts, but the jurisdiction of these courts extends only to small trials, and after the decision of this court, you can file for reconsideration in the high court with a jury,” says the lawyer.

The judge in the consideration of cases by the people's jury solves all procedural issues. He is the link between assessors and lawyers. The judge gives instructions if a dispute arises in the interpretation of the law.

“The judge can overturn the jury verdict only in rare cases - if the jury's verdict is completely incomprehensible to the mind. Also, the judge, after testimony, may make an early decision before the jury makes its decision. This happens when the testimony or evidence is so clear that there is no need to waste time or bother the jury, ”Shakhtakhtinsky says.

The judge must advise members of the jury. Photo: depositphotos.com

The judge must advise members of the jury. Photo: depositphotos.com

The lawyer gives a simple example. If the defendant pleaded guilty and made a confession, the judge himself will close part of the case on the issue of responsibility. But the jurors must decide directly on the punishment of the defendant. In this case, the judge will determine the time limits that assessors must comply with.

According to Department of State, 71% of criminal cases tried by a jury end with a guilty verdict. The proportion of civil jury trials won by the plaintiff is 49%. The average amount of damages assigned to the plaintiff is $ 28.

The most scandalous verdicts

A jury in the United States appeared in the 18 century. Since then, the court system itself with the participation of “people of the people” has hardly changed.

However, there were cases when jurors handed out scandalous verdicts. So, in 1995, a jury consisting mainly of black Americans issued an acquittal in the high-profile case “People of California versus O.J. Simpson”. The black footballer and actor were accused of killing his wife Nicole-Brown Simpson and her partner. The jury tried this case for more than 9 months.

Simpson on a loud process behaved absolutely calm. Photo: massappeal.com

Simpson on a loud process behaved absolutely calm. Photo: massappeal.com

The verdict was announced on 3 on October 1995, on 10 in the morning. Millions of Americans at home, in offices and even in Times Square have clung to TV screens. The day before the jury, which was supposed to decide on the case, retired to a meeting. Both the defense and the prosecution expected the discussion process to take at least several weeks. However, the verdict was ready in 4 hours. The jury found Simpson innocent and found all the evidence against the defendant to be insignificant.

In 1993, a jury acquitted 3 police officers who beat a black driver, Rodney King. The prosecution provided seemingly indisputable evidence - the attack was filmed on a video camera. However, the recording did not convince the jury, and the assessors sided with the attacker.

And in 1997, the jury, which was considering the case on charges of Iris Pine's murder of her own husband, passed the verdict “innocent”. In this case, the evidence of the woman's guilt was so clear that no one doubted that the widow would go to jail. However, the jury, consisting mainly of women, considered that Iris Pine had no other way but to kill her husband and thus free herself from the constant tyranny of her husband.

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