As trial lawyers, this is one question we confront frequently. The question is understandable. People often worry about missing work, arranging care for their children, or are uncomfortable serving on a jury. However, serving on a jury is a public service, and can also be a rewarding and interesting experience.
The right to a trial by a jury is a uniquely American tradition, enshrined in the Sixth and Seventh Amendments to the United States Constitution. This right even appears in the Iowa Constitution. Indeed, the jury trial is fully embedded in the fabric of American culture. Although the number of jury trials is declining, they are nonetheless an essential part of the American justice system.
Below we endeavor to provide short answers in response to frequently asked questions concerning jury service in Iowa:
FAQ #1: Why did I get picked for jury duty?
Jury selection is random. If you have registered to vote in Iowa, or obtained an Iowa driver’s license, your name was added to a list maintained by the Iowa court administration of potential jurors. That list is further organized county by county. Computers randomly select names from the corresponding list, and those individuals are sent summons to appear at the courthouse on a certain date.
Because some people live in densely populated counties (e.g. Polk, Johnson, Scott), their chance of being selected is smaller because there is a larger pool of names from which to pick. People living in more rural, sparsely populated counties have a higher chance of being selected for jury service for this same reason.
FAQ #2: How are juries selected?
Jury “selection” is a misnomer. In fact, once potential jurors are brought into the courtroom, potential jurors are de-selected through a process called “voir dire.” The name comes from the Latin term verum dicere meaning “to speak the truth.” During voir dire, the lawyers get to ask the group of potential jurors (the “venire panel”) questions in order to determine which jurors should be de-selected.
During voir dire, the lawyers from each side use “strikes” to de-select potential jurors. There are two types of strikes: (1) “for cause” strikes, and (2) peremptory challenges.
In Iowa, a juror can be stricken “for cause” under a number of circumstances, including but not limited to a felony conviction, severe physical or mental conditions, being related to one of the parties, or having some other relationship to the case or the parties. Each lawyer has unlimited strikes for cause.
By contrast, lawyers can use peremptory challenges to strike a potential juror without giving a reason. Each lawyer has three peremptory challenges. However, lawyers cannot use peremptory challenges to strike jurors on account of their race, gender, or other protected class.
FAQ #3: How many people serve on a jury?
It depends. The number of jurors required to render a verdict changes between state and federal trials, as well as between civil and criminal trials. Often in criminal trials, alternate jurors will be selected to stand by in the event that one of the jury members cannot continue.
Additionally, the number of jurors depends on what kind of jury you sit on. There are two types: grand juries, and petit juries. Grand juries consist of seven members who must decide whether there is sufficient evidence to bring a criminal charge against someone. Petit juries sit for trials, and act as “factfinders” during civil or criminal trials.
The minimum number of jurors serving on petit juries in state court, is eight for civil cases and 12 for criminal. In federal court, a civil jury has six members and criminal has twelve.
FAQ #4: Do I get paid for serving on the jury?
Reimbursement for jury service includes pay, mileage, and parking. Jurors receive $30 for each day of jury service. If jury service goes longer than seven days, the rate increases to $50 a day. Jurors are also given mileage and parking reimbursements.
FAQ #5: Can my employer fire me for missing work while I am serving on a jury?
Absolutely not. It is illegal for employers to threaten, coerce, or fire an employee because they served, or were call to serve, on a jury. Employers who break this rule are subject to contempt of court, and can be subject to a lawsuit by the employee.
FAQ #6: Can I get excused from jury service?
Only in limited circumstances can someone be outright excused from jury service. A person must provide the court with written documentation to the court’s satisfaction that one of the two circumstances exist:
- The person is solely responsible for the daily care of a person with a permanent disability living in the person’s home and that performance of jury service would cause substantial risk of injury to the health of the disabled person; or
- The person is breastfeeding her child and is not employed outside the home.
Note: Anyone who provides false statements to the court to be excused, or provides a false answer during voir dire to get de-selected, may be found in contempt of court and be punished by the court.