Jurors have obligations, rights, too

Ever been called for jury duty? While it tends to be an inconvenience, having citizens willing to weigh evidence and make a decision in trials is a cornerstone of the judicial system. All who seek justice in the courts or are accused of a crime have a right to trial by a jury of their peers.

In recognition of that obligation, all seven justices of the Michigan Supreme Court have officially designated July as Juror Appreciation Month. The resolution acknowledges and pays tribute to the many Michigan citizens who have graciously served as jurors, and to encourage everyone to answer the summons to jury service.

“As citizens of the United States, we have a constitutional obligation to fulfill jury duty when called upon,” Chief Justice Stephen J. Markman said, adding, “The importance of the jury in both the civil and criminal realms cannot be overstated. People’s liberty and property are typically at stake, depending on what the jury finds.”

Which is why it’s crucial those asked to be on a jury respond to that “call of duty,” the court insisted. In turn, the justices pledged “to continue their efforts to make jury duty more efficient and less burdensome.”

Some facts about jury service:

— Jurors can be drawn from U.S. citizens at least 18 years old who are residents of the court district to which they are summoned. The jury pool for each court comes from a list of licensed drivers and state I.D. card holders in the court’s district. Those who have been convicted of felony crimes are not eligible for jury service.

— People over 70 may request an age exemption from jury service.

— Those called need not serve more than once in a 12-month period.

— Jurors must be able to communicate in the English language and be physically and mentally able to carry out the functions of a juror.

— Under Michigan law, jurors receive not less than $30 per day and $15 per half day for the first day of service. For each day after that, jurors receive not less than $45 per day and $22.50 per half day. Jurors also receive mileage for their trips to and from court. If you report for duty but do not get on a jury, you are paid for the day.

— Those who do not show up for jury duty can be held in contempt of court, fined or even jailed.

— By law, an employer cannot fire, or discipline or threaten action against an employee who is summoned for jury duty or chosen to serve on a jury, even for a long trial. Nor can employers force a worker to go beyond normal hours to make up for time spent on jury service. An employer who takes these actions could be guilty of a misdemeanor or held in contempt of court.

— What’s an acceptable reason to be excused from jury service? That’s up to the court, but a number of grounds exist for excusing a person or postponing the service. “Hardship” is one, and that could include lack of transportation, excessive travel, extreme financial burden, undue risk to physical property and being over 70. “Hardship” also includes situations where your absence from your normal routine would affect another’s care or pose a risk to public health or safety. A request for a medical related exemption requires a letter from a doctor. A full-time student who believes that jury service will conflict with his or her classes must submit a copy of the class schedule.

— Can those who serve on a jury talk about the case afterwards? Once the judge discharges jurors, the case can be discussed with others, although there is no obligation to answer questions about the matter. Attorneys in the case often find it helpful to talk to the jurors afterwards. In a high-profile case, the media may also want to talk to jurors.

For more information, go online to www.courts.mi.gov/jury.