Massachusetts has a long and proud history of establishing and sustaining the jury system in the Commonwealth and the nation. In 1620, trial by jury was brought to the New World by the Pilgrims, who landed on the shores of what became first the Plymouth Colony, later the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and ultimately the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
In 1860, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to bestow the right and obligation of jury service on African-American citizens, in 1860. In modern times, almost 370 years after the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts was once again at the forefront as it became the first state in the nation to adopt the One Day or One Trial system in all of its jury courts. One Day or One Trial is now the standard throughout the nation.
From the early days of our nation to the present time, Massachusetts has led the country in promoting the jury system for the benefit of all.
One Day or One Trial
- Under the One Day or One Trial system, all qualified citizens are eligible to perform jury service for either one day or the duration of one trial, if they are impaneled on a case.
- No one is exempt from jury duty: police officers, students, doctors, teachers, homemakers, government officials, and even judges are eligible for jury service. This inclusive approach ensures that Massachusetts jury pools are as diverse and representative as possible.
How are jurors selected for service?
- Prospective jurors are selected at random from the resident lists supplied to the Office of Jury Commissioner (OJC) every year by each of the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts.
- “Random selection” means that if you are eligible to serve, you have the same chance of being summoned as anyone else who is on the jury list with you, even if you have already served before. This is why some people may be summoned several times before their spouses, neighbors, or friends ever receive a summons.
When and where must jurors serve?
- While jury service is both a privilege of citizenship and an obligation, the OJC makes every effort to make jury service as convenient as possible.
- All prospective jurors are entitled to postpone their jury service for up to one full year, to a date of their choosing. You can even lock in your preferred date of service on the Massachusetts Juror Service Website by clicking the Respond to Juror Summons link and logging in with the Badge No. and PIN found on your Summons or Reminder Notice.
- After reporting for service at the courthouse, jurors do not have to serve again for at least three years. (However, those who do not appear because their service was cancelled are eligible to be called again the following year.)
- Jurors are randomly assigned to courthouses within their judicial districts, which is usually the county. The goal is to ensure that the jury pool in each court contains a mix of people from all over the district (“a jury of one’s peers”), not just those who live closest to the courthouse. Jurors with real hardships can request a transfer to a more convenient location if necessary.
Are jurors compensated?
- Jurors are paid by their employers for their first three days of jury service, and the state pays a stipend of $50 per day from the fourth day on.
- Self-employed and unemployed jurors, including students, homemakers, and retirees, receive no compensation for their first three days of service, but receive the $50 stipend after the third day.
- For more information, see our FAQ on juror compensation.
The importance of the jury system
- Massachusetts has played a significant role in the origin and development of the American jury system.
- After the Pilgrims introduced trial by jury in “Plimoth” (now Plymouth), the system was adopted throughout the colonies.
- The framers of the United States Constitution considered both the right to a jury trial and the performance of juror service as sacred and necessary to preserve individual freedom. It was viewed as an important check against tyranny and the abuse of power by the government.
- Juror service is both a duty and privilege of citizenship, and was viewed by the founders of our nation as a necessary check against government use of the courts to wrongly convict the innocent.
- The right to trial by jury is guaranteed not only by the United States Constitution , but by the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts . (The Massachusetts Constitution is the oldest continuously operative constitution in the world.)
- Jury service is truly government in the hands of the people.
- Aside from military service, it is the only time your government will call upon you to serve to protect our constitutional freedoms.
- If you receive a summons for jury duty, you can serve with pride, knowing the important role you are playing in preserving our participatory democracy by assisting in the administration of justice.