Despite it being an integral part of our society, many people still have questions about jury duty. What can I expect? Do I really have to show up? Why should I even care? We want to answer these questions while taking you through what to expect if you are summoned for juror service in Maryland. Read on to learn more about:
- The Process of Serving on a Jury and What to Expect if it is Your First Time;
- Why it’s Important to Serve on a Jury; and
- Penalties and Consequences if You Don’t Show Up for Juror Service.
A Basic Overview of Jury Duty in Maryland
Everyone seems to dread receiving a summons for jury duty. Taking time off to sit in a courtroom for an indefinite amount of time is no one’s idea of a good time—unless you’re a lawyer, maybe.
There are a couple of components to jury service if you have never been summoned. First, there is a form all prospective jurors receive called the Juror Qualification Form. This helps courts judge whether a person is fit for jury service and assure the process of gathering jurors is unbiased and random. You must complete and return the form within 10 days of receiving it. You can usually complete these online and, if you need, file to reschedule or postpone your jury date.
What may qualify you for juror service? A couple of very basic qualities: you need to be at least 18 years old, a US citizen, and a resident of Maryland—specifically in the county where you will serve as a juror.
Disqualifications for juror service are a bit more limiting. You may be disqualified if you cannot read, write, or speak English without help. Any disabilities that may prevent you from serving, provided you supply the courts with the proper medical documents, are grounds for disqualification too. Finally, if you have any criminal history—specifically crimes punishable by more than one year in prison or pending criminal charges—you will be disqualified from juror service.
Maryland courts typically provide a per diem to jurors for service ranging from $15 to $30 (you can also donate that money through the state’s Generous Juror program). Maryland’s Circuit Courts determine the typical trial length, but most tend to only last as long as two days; you will be told if it lasts any longer.
There are very helpful and thorough FAQ sections about jury duty on Maryland’s Court website to answer any specific questions you have about service.
Jury Duty is relatively straightforward. On the day of your service, arrive at the courthouse and proceed to its Jury Assembly Room—all these details will be provided upon summons. An officer of the court will walk you through the day and take you into the courtroom, where the lawyers will proceed to choose a jury for the trial. During this part of the process, you may not make the selection for the jury and be allowed to go home.
If you do make the jury, the case will proceed. From there, both the prosecution and defense make their opening statements, present evidence and invite witnesses to testify, then give their closing arguments. You and your fellow jurors will then deliberate in a private setting on the facts presented in the case and decide on a verdict: guilty or not guilty.
The juror process may sound tiring, but it is a necessary component of our criminal justice system. Though lawyers are there to stand up for their clients and provide aggressive legal support on their behalf, it is ultimately a diverse jury of ordinary, everyday people—a jury of one’s peers—who make the decision.
Past the Process: The Importance of Jury Duty
Juror service has been a long-standing institution in this country, dating back to before its date of birth. Not only is the right to a jury trial enshrined in the Constitution, but it’s an integral part of our country’s democratic values.
Though your service on a jury may seem like a footnote compared to the rest of your life, it could make-or-break someone else’s future; in criminal trials especially, you may have a person’s future in your hands come-deliberation.
The ideal juror is someone who is attentive and impartial. Do not take service lightly: you may be making a very weighty decision in your verdict. Likewise, you may bring in past feelings or experiences with certain types of crime. It’s important to leave those ‘out’ of your decisions and view of the trial altogether. Though this may be difficult, all situations and circumstances are different; just because you have experience with a type of crime does not mean this case is as clear-cut or similar.
Put yourself in the shoes of the defendant: if you committed a crime and had to go to trial, you would hope for a fair and impartial jury. As much as the system is in place for the defendant in your trial, it’s also in place for you if ever alleged of committing a crime.
Don’t Show Up for Service? The Consequences You May Face
Courts don’t take a no-show for jury duty lightly. You may think this is something that isn’t too consequential if there’s a chance you won’t get picked for service, but that’s not the case.
In Maryland, you could be fined up to $1,000 and face 60 days in jail: a steep punishment you do not want to face if all that stands between you and jail is juror service.
There are unique situations that may apply to you over the course of your service that pull you away from the court. For example, if a family member suffers a medical emergency while you’re a juror, then your first inclination may be to leave. However, if you abandon jury duty during a trial, penalties are worse—where you could face up to 90 days in prison.
If you experience an emergency during the span of jury duty, contact a court official as soon as possible.
A final note: remember the Juror Qualification Form? Based on its use, you may feel an urge to lie about your personal information to disqualify yourself from jury duty. This is also a punishable crime: up to $5,000 in fines and 30 days in jail. Make sure you fill out the form as honestly as possible to avoid these harsh penalties.
Best of luck with any jury service you face. If you ever need any legal help or consultation yourself, contact our offices for a free initial consultation.