B. Overview of Jury Service
1. Receipt of a Summons
2. Statutory Disqualifications
3. Students and Jury Duty
4. Compensation for Jury Service
5. Failure to Report
C. Trial Court Departments with Jury Sessions
D. Day of Jury Service
1. Juror Orientation
3. Juror's Role During Trial
4. Deliberation and Verdict
5. Certificate of Service
E. Inclusion of Minorities and Women
1. African-American Jurors
2. Women Jurors
The Massachusetts Jury System
D. The Day of Jury Service
1. Juror Orientation
Jurors should dress respectfully for jury service. Those not dressed appropriately, such as those wearing torn clothing or beach wear, may be dismissed and ordered by the court to return on another day in more appropriate apparel.
Upon reporting to the courthouse, a juror is directed to the jury assembly room and "checked in" by jury pool staff. After check-in, the jury pool officer conducts a brief orientation about what to expect, and answers questions about the courthouse (e.g. restrooms, telephones) and its surroundings (e.g. restaurants, shops).
Jurors then view an 18-minute videotape, "Jury Service: Your Right, Your Responsibility" on the One-Day/One-Trial Jury System. Following the tape, a judge appears in person to welcome jurors. He or she reviews the schedule and emphasizes the importance of juries to our democratic society.
Jurors often wait a short while before being called to courtrooms for impanelment (the term used for the selection of jurors who will actually be seated to hear a case). During this time, lists of scheduled jury cases are being called in the courtrooms. Many cases scheduled for trial that day may be resolved before impanelment begins. Because of the presence of jurors in the courthouse, the parties know they must go to trial or resolve their cases (by means of a plea).
When the parties to a case scheduled for trial cannot achieve a pre-trial resolution, they report to the judge that they are ready for trial. Some or all of the waiting jurors are then escorted by court personnel into the courtroom. During their day of service, jurors may participate in more than one impanelment.
Once in the courtroom, all jurors are sworn to make true answers to all questions they will be asked during the impanelment process. At this point, the trial judge tells the jury about the case, introduces the parties and attorneys, and states the expected length of the trial. The judge will ask if any juror faces a hardship if selected to serve on that trial. Those claiming hardships are asked to raise their hands and are called to the side of the judge's bench to speak privately with the trial judge about their particular situations. Only the judge has the statutory authority to exerercise discretion to excuse a juror due to the hardship created by the estimated length of the trial.
After the hardship hearings, the trial judge asks a series of questions to determine whether the jurors assembled in the courtroom are impartial. Based upon their answers to these questions, jurors may be excused by the judge "for cause." For example, if a juror has answered that he or she knows one of the parties in the case, such as the defendant, the prosecutor, or one of the witnesses, he or she will likely be excused. If the judge does not find reason to excuse a juror for cause on his or her own initiative, either of the parties to the trial may try to persuade the judge that the juror should be excused for cause. Those excused for cause may be excused for the day, or may be disqualified from participation in that trial only, depending on the cause.
The jurors remaining in the courtroom may be subjected to "peremptory challenges" by the parties. Each party is allowed to dismiss a certain number of jurors, without having to give any reason. (See the next paragraph for an important limitation on the exercise of this right.) This is known as a "peremptory challenge." Peremptory challenges may appear to have been made for no apparent reason. They are limited in number depending upon the type of case.
In 2003, the Supreme Judicial Court extended this reasoning to combined race-gender groups (e.g. white male, black female). Some judges and scholars believe that due to the difficulty of determining whether a party has exercised a peremptory challenge for an improper reason, peremptory challenges should either be abolished or substantially restricted.
After the process of excusing for cause and peremptorily challenging the jurors, the parties will inform the judge that they are "content" with the composition of the jury. Jurors are then sworn, the judge briefs the jurors on what to expect during the course of a trial and reviews the jury's responsibilities, and the trial begins.
3. The Juror's Role During Trial
For a brief summary of the trial process, please select the Massachusetts Judicial System windowpane, and proceed to the section entitled "An Overview of the Trial Process."
Once impanelled, common sense and the willingness to pay attention are the only qualifications needed to be a successful juror. A juror's job is to consider the evidence presented during the trial and to decide what the truth is in that particular case. Jurors should not guess, speculate about what might have happened, or play amateur detective by investigating matters outside of the courthouse. They must consider only the evidence presented during the trial. Sometimes the judge will order a visit to the scene of an accident or a crime, but that visit would only be conducted in the presence of the parties, with all the jurors and the judge present.
In some instances jurors may be allowed to take notes, or ask questions, but that is within the discretion of the trial judge. Jurors may not discuss the case until the judge has instructed the jury to begin deliberations.
4. Deliberations and Verdict
At the close of trial, the judge will instruct the jurors on the law to apply to the evidence they have seen and heard. In both civil and criminal cases, it is the jury's duty to decide the facts in accordance with the principles of law laid down in the judge's charge to the jury. (The forthcoming history section will describe the evolution of the division of labor between judge and jury, and the history of jury nullification in Massachusetts.)
Once in the jury room, the jurors review the evidence. Once the required number of jurors has agreed on a result, the foreperson notifies the court that the jury has reached a verdict. In a criminal trial, the verdict must be unanimous. In a civil case, five-sixths of the jury must agree on a verdict. If the jury cannot arrive at a verdict, the jury will be hung and a mistrial will be declared. This trial is then over, though the case may be tried again in the future with a different jury.
5. Certificate of Service
All jurors who appeared for jury service, whether they participated in a trial or not, are mailed a Juror Service Certificate about one week after their date(s) of service. These people are now disqualified from serving as a juror in a Massachusetts court for three years; this allows other citizens the opportunity to exercise this duty and privilege.