Massachusetts law about juries and jury service

A compilation of laws, regulations, cases, and web sources on juries, jury service, and jury instructions.

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Table of Contents

Best bet

Jury information: Everything you need to know if you've been summonsed for jury service, as well as an overview of the Massachusetts jury system.

Massachusetts laws

Mass. Constitution Declaration of Rights Art. XII Right to trial by jury in criminal matters

Mass. Constitution Declaration of Rights Art. XV Right to trial by jury in civil matters

MGL c. 234A Office of Jury Commissioner

Massachusetts regulations

Massachusetts court rules

Federal laws

28 USC §§ 1861–1878 Juries; trial by jury

Jury instructions

Selected cases

Butler v. Perry, 240 US 328 (1916)
"the Thirteenth Amendment ... was adopted with reference to conditions existing since the foundation of our Government, and the term involuntary servitude was intended to cover those forms of compulsory labor akin to African slavery ... It introduced no novel doctrine with respect of services always treated as exceptional, and certainly was not intended to interdict enforcement of those duties which individuals owe to the State, such as services in the army, militia, on the jury, etc."

Comm. v. Bennefield, 482 Mass. 250 (2019)
"At a criminal trial in the District Court, an oral waiver of the right to be tried by the full complement of six jurors is valid, as long as the defendant waives this right knowingly and voluntarily."

Comm. v. Chambers, 93 Mass. App. Ct. 806 (2018)
"Discussion of the standard of review of the determination by a judge of juror impartiality."

Comm. v. Chalue, 486 Mass. 847 (2021)
Where polling the jury, a single juror disagreed with the verdict slip. The appendix to this case offers an approach for a judge to take "where, as in this case, a judge is faced with a juror who indicated a verdict at odds with the verdict slip when polled, and who refused to reenter the jury room to deliberate."

Comm. v. DiBenedetto, 94 Mass. App. Ct. 682 (2019)
Once a verdict is affirmed by the jury and recorded by the clerk, it is final. When a judge learns, after a guilty verdict has been affirmed and recorded, that the jurors misunderstood the unanimity instruction, he should have accepted the original verdict, instead of sending the jurors out to continue deliberations.

Comm. v. Fernandes, 483 Mass. 1 (2019) Instructing grand juries on lesser offenses and mitigating circumstances
"It is generally advisable for prosecutors to instruct grand juries on the elements of lesser offenses and defenses whenever such instructions would help the grand jury to understand the legal significance of mitigating circumstances and defenses."

Comm. v. Fujita, 470 Mass. 484 (2015)
A list of jurors must be "retained in the court file of the case and be made available to the public in the same manner as other court records; further, this court concluded that only on a judicial finding of good cause, which may include a risk of harm to the jurors or to the integrity of their service, may such a list be withheld."

Comm. v. Grassie, 476 Mass. 202 (2017) Grand Jury proceedings must be recorded.
"[T]he entire grand jury proceeding - with the exception of the grand jury's own deliberations - is to be recorded in a manner that permits reproduction and transcription. This shall include any legal instructions provided to the grand jury by a judge or a prosecutor in connection with the proceeding, as well as a record of all those present during the proceeding, excluding the names of the grand jurors."

Comm. v. Hebert, 379 Mass. 752 (1980) Jury nullification.
 "Although it is improper for a juror to disregard the law as given by the judge, it remains within the power of a juror to vote his or her conscience."

Comm. v. Lassiter, 80 Mass. App. Ct. 125 (2011)
Held that a jury cannot be called back to re-deliberate once a verdict has been accepted.

Comm. v. Moore, 474 Mass. 541 (2016)
Detailed discussion of Mass. R. Prof. C. 3.5 (c), "regarding an attorney's ability to communicate, postverdict, with jurors who deliberated on, or were discharged from, the attorney's client's case," including a suggested jury instruction on contact by attorneys.

Comm. v. Ralph R., a juvenile, 490 Mass. 770 (2022)
Conviction vacated and set aside over lack of jury bias inquiry. "In order to safeguard a defendant’s right to an impartial jury, when a judge receives preverdict information that reasonably suggests that a statement reflecting racial, ethnic, or other improper bias was made during jury deliberations, the information 'cannot be ignored.'" 

Comm. v. Shea, 460 Mass. 163 (2011)
Provides a short history of allowing juror note taking, while strongly encouraging note taking to be routinely permitted. "We believe that an accurate memory of detailed facts is as important in a court room as it in a lecture hall or board room, where notetaking is almost invariably permitted. We refer the question whether we should revise our rules to require that jurors be permitted to take notes during some or all trials, or whether we should continue to leave such decisions to the discretion of the judge, to this court's standing advisory committees on the rules of criminal and civil procedure."

Comm. v. Tiscione, 482 Mass. 485 (2019)
Discharging distressed juror. "At a criminal trial, the judge erred in discharging a deliberating juror, where, as revealed during a colloquy with the juror, her distress was based not on personal issues alone but also on events that took place in the jury room with her fellow jurors."

Comm. v. Werner, 81 Mass. App. Ct. 689 (2012)
Juror use of social media. "More explicit instructions about the use of social media and the Internet may.. be required. Instructions not to talk or chat about the case should expressly extend to electronic communications and social media, and discussions about the use of the Internet should expressly go beyond prohibitions on research. Jurors should not research, describe, or discuss the case on- or off-line. Jurors must separate and insulate their jury service from their digital lives."

Doull v. Foster, 487 Mass. 1 (2021)
The court decided "that a but-for standard, rather than a substantial factor standard, is the appropriate standard for factual causation in negligence cases involving multiple alleged causes of the harm."

Web sources

Federal jury duty information, US District Court, District of Massachusetts.

Grand jury service, Mass. Office of Jury Commissioner.
Have you been summoned for grand jury service? Find out what to expect during your service.

Grand juror's handbook, Mass. Office of Jury Commissioner.

Jury and juror use of new media: a baseline exploration, National Center for State Courts.
Authors "offer insights into the current and likely future use of new media by jurors at all stages of the process."

Jury duty, Mass. Office of Jury Commissioner.
Have you been summoned to jury duty in Massachusetts? Learn how to respond to your summons.

Massachusetts Trial Court policy on juror use of personal communication devices, Mass. Trial Court, 2010.
"This policy relates to the use of cell phones and other personal communication devices by jurors in courthouses and courtrooms."

Office of the Jury Commissioner (OCJ)
Resources for jurors: respond to your summons online/check your statues; important forms related to your jury duty; learn about jury duty accessibility; what to expect on the day of your jury service; take the jury service survey.

Trial juror's handbook, Office of Jury Commissioner.
Answers common questions about serving as a juror.

Trial juror instructions and information brochure, Mass. Office of Jury Commissioner.
Information about completing the juror confirmation form; qualifications and disqualifications; postponements and transfers; parents, students, self-employed jurors; accessibility and compensation.

Trial juror service, Office of Jury Commissioner.
Have you been summoned for trial service? Find out what to expect during your service.

Wood, Pamela J., "Vantage Point: Massachusetts' Leadership Role in the American Jury System," 55 Boston Bar Journal 13 (Spring 2011)

Print sources

Criminal model jury instructions for use in the District Court, 3rd ed., MCLE, loose-leaf.

Criminal practice and procedure, 4th ed. (Mass. Practice v.30A) Thomson Reuters, 2014 with supplement. Sections 17:1–17:70; Sections 32:1-32:85; Appendix 32A. “Good Cause” and “No Good Cause” to discharge deliberating juror decisions (examples).

Federal grand jury: a guide to law and practice, 2nd ed., Thomson/West, c2006.

Grand jury law and practice, 2nd ed., West Group, c1997.

Massachusetts District Court civil practice manual, 2nd ed., MCLE, loose-leaf, Appendix District Court civil practice jury instructions.

Massachusetts jury trial benchbook, 5th ed., Flaschner Judicial Institute, 2022.

Massachusetts Superior Court civil practice jury instructions, 3rd ed., MCLE, loose-leaf.

Massachusetts Superior Court criminal practice jury instructions, 3rd ed., MCLE, loose-leaf.

What to do about personnel problems in Massachusetts, Business & Legal Reports, loose-leaf, p. J-19-J-21. National and Massachusetts Jury Duty/Court Appearance: Job Protection and Pay Issues.


Last updated: November 29, 2022

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