How to prepare for jury duty

I just went through the jury duty process and wanted to share my experience and the things I wish I had known before that would have made it a much smoother process. This is all based off of my experience for the court that I went to and things may be different for you in your area.

Getting your summons. When you get your jury duty summons in the mail, look at the date and make sure you are able to attend. If you have a trip to Europe booked or a surgery scheduled around that time you may want to request a postponement. In my state, you can submit a request to postpone jury duty for another time period within the next 6 months, but you do have to show up that day and can’t postpone again. After that, inform your employer of your scheduled jury duty date so they have proper coverage during that time.

The night before. In my area, you are supposed to call the courthouse the night before your scheduled appearance and an automated system will then inform you if you are to come in or not. One time I called in and it was canceled, so I didn’t have to go after all. Get to bed early and lay out your clothes, breakfast, and a lunch you can bring. In the picture up above, everyone is nicely dressed, but in the jury duty I went to people were in normal casual street clothes. My recommendation is to dress nice, but comfortably.

The day of jury duty. When you arrive you will show your jury duty summons (your ticket to get in), and go through metal detectors. Make sure you left your knives, pepper spray, guns, and whatever else at home. Bring a book to read. After I arrived they had us wait for about three hours before they got started. You could dabble on your phone, but in general they don’t like phones on in courts because they are distracting, you could be looking up information on the case, or you could be recording the proceedings. All of these could get you in trouble and the judge can give you a contempt of court charge or the entire case might go into mistrial. Turn your phone off and bring a book or newspaper to read. Also bring a jacket. Even though it was in the 90’s outside, they cranked up the air conditioning inside and everyone was freezing, including myself. In the courtroom I went to I was permitted a closed water bottle, but no food. So leave your food in your car and have that during the lunch break, and only sip on the water, because they do give you bathroom breaks, but if you really have to go, you don’t want to hold up the entire court if they are in the middle of something.

Jury selection. There were about 100 of us selected and eventually that gets whittled down to 12 jurors and 3 alternative backups. They will ask you a series of questions to see if you are going to be a good choice to be on the jury and will be fair and impartial. If the upcoming trial is only going to be a day or two, they probably won’t ask a lot of questions but the trial I was scheduled for was going to go on for three weeks because it was a pretty serious crime. So voice any issues you may have of sitting in on a jury during that time period. Things such as being a member of law enforcement, being a victim of a similar crime, or even being a single mother of five children with no options for child care could get you excused.

Pros and cons of serving on a jury. Most likely if you are reading this you are a citizen of the United States and are subject to receiving a jury summons. The Constitution gives us this great privilege to be judged by our peers and not just a judge. So being able to serve my community in this way was something I was looking forward to. There are some hardships that come with it however. In my state, your employer is supposed to pay you for the first three days of jury duty, but after that the court will give you $50 a day. If I had been selected for that three week trial then that would have put some serious hardship on my family if I only made $50 a day. Have some emergency savings that you can live off of if you have to go through a trial like this. If you are a business owner, set procedures in place to have various shifts covered if one of your employees has to go through this. One poor lady there had previously served on a federal jury for 18 months! I don’t know how if payment was different for her, but could you live on $50/day for 18 months? That’s when tapping into savings and food storage would be helpful.


  • Comments (13)

    • 6

      Mike, thank you for the great write up. I would add that if you are selected for a jury, take care selecting a foreman / foreperson. Decades ago, I was on a jury and we quickly named as foreperson the only one who had ever been on a jury before. She was an immature, easily distracted, maybe narcissistic person who turned out to be the worst possible choice. Experience is not everything.

    • 3

      Mike, this is excellent advice. I’ll add that parking can be an issue, so plan to arrive early. At our courthouse there is very little parking close to the building and parking in town is limited to 2 hours. There is an overflow lot, but it’s a pretty good hike. Also, we have to go through a metal detector and can’t take our phones. 

      I’ve served on the jury for two murder trials. They were both highly stressful. Thankfully, they were short. 

      • 1

        I’ll second the parking issue. Luckily I showed up 30 minutes early and had plenty of spots to chose from, but people were trickling in 10 minutes after they were supposed to be there and looks like they had more trouble with parking.

        Wow! Two murder trials? May I ask how you did with them after the fact? Does it weigh on you about your ruling or are you comfortable with the decision the jury came to?

      • 2

        Mike, that’s a good question. I was very young (early 20s) when I served on the first one. That one bothers me to this day, and it was 40 yrs ago. There was no question that the defendant was guilty and we ended up letting him off. I did learn a lot from this experience and that allowed me to do a better job on the 2nd one. One of the most important lessons I learned is that 12 people seeing and hearing the exact same things will have vastly different views and opinions when they sit down to make a decision. I was shocked by that the first time, but I was prepared for it the second time. 

      • 1

        “There was no question that the defendant was guilty and we ended up letting him off.”

        Why was the defendant let off?

      • 1

        There are many reasons why, and I hope OldHouseGirl is able to respond. 

        A famous example is the OJ Simpson trial. From what I’ve heard, everyone who watched that on TV knew he was guilty, but the police messed up so much on evidence collection that there the defense was able to introduce some doubt. And that’s the duty of the jury, to either confirm that the prosecution was able to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, if not, they get off. 

      • 3

        The case was straightforward. Six people witnessed it. However, the defendant was elderly and the victim was young. The defense, who like in the OJ. Simpson trial was very good, argued that the old man was afraid for his life & felt threatened by the young man, even though he was armed and the victim wasn’t. We did find him guilty of 2nd degree murder, but ended up giving him probation as a sentence. The case was simple. The group dynamics of 12 people making one decision is not. There were only 2 of us who thought he needed to serve prison time. In hindsight the best I could have done was hang the jury. If I could do it over I would do that. However, it was a learning experience that I was able to apply the next time. The 2nd murder trial had some similar circumstances and plenty of witnesses. When the jury went to deliberate, again people were all over the map and there were only 2 of us that thought the murderer should go to prison. The difference was this time I was older, wiser, & prepared for it. Fortunately, I was able to help achieve a better result. 

        The moral of this story is that if you do serve on a jury, understand that the opinions will literally go from one extreme to the other. There will have to be compromise. How close that compromise comes to your own opinion will depend on your willingness to respectfully stand your ground and convince others. 

    • 2

      As a UK citizen my experience of jury duty was entirely different, as a self employed person I had to arrange to cover jobs or cancel them then submit a certificate of loss to receive compensation. We received travel expenses to go to the Crown court in Liverpool. Packed lunches were allowed in the building. No phones were allowed at all as they can take photos, record or prejudice the trial, they had to be checked at the security gate. Smart dress only.

      Free tea and coffee was provided in a large waiting area where groups of jurors were selected each day from a pool of unselected jurors. If you were not randomly selected you could return home at lunch time to return the next day, if you were selected you had to attend Crown court each day until the case had been heard (no matter how long it took) 

      I spent most of my week bird watching off a balcony in the mornings and travelling home on the train while eating my packed lunch as I wasn’t selected from the pool of jurors. It was a complete waste of my time and taxpayer’s money but it was my duty. After being selected we are not supposed to be summoned for jury duty again for 5 years.

      • 1

        Sounds like the jury duty process is easier and more compensating for citizens in the UK. Thanks for sharing your experience, that was interesting to read.

    • 3

      Aside from the problem of missing work, it seems that it would also be difficult to avoid COVID infection in this environment. The picture shows jurors (and probably a lawyer) very close together, indoors, without masks. Is the court doing anything to help with infection control? Are there air purifiers in the building? Are there opportunities to go outside briefly for meals and/or snacks throughout the day?

      • 1

        Great question, and that’s one I thought of as well. I saw maybe two people out of the hundred during the “pre-screening” that wore masks. People were sitting close together and there didn’t seem to be much concern for covid anymore.

        They did have a hour lunch break in the middle of the day where you could go outside.

      • 1

        The lunch break sounds good.

        The other issue I would have in that situation is needing to take a drink every hour or two. Smaller outdoor breaks sprinkled throughout the day would help a lot with that.

    • 2

      In our area, cell phones and any type of recording devices are prohibitted.   Check your local courthouse regulations before you go.