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October 17, 2019

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Your number’s up for jury duty — now what?

Missing Etan Patz

AP Photo/Elizabeth Williams

A courtroom sketch depicts jurors listening to a trial.

For those fascinated by the American court system, a jury duty notice is like a winning lottery ticket. For others, it’s more like a summons to a forced march.

If you’re called to serve, what exactly are you in for?

Here’s a look at how the jury-selection process works, and a few things you’ll want to know if your number comes up.

STEP 1: Notification

Who can be selected?

Clark County District Court officials select jury pools with a computer system that randomly selects jury pools from Department of Motor Vehicle records and records from a local utility. Court officials are reviewing a proposal to select candidates for jury pools from voting records.

Jurors are sent a notice in the mail. It includes a randomly selected juror ID number along with instructions about when and where to report, and a phone number to call the night before the reporting date. That number connects to an automated message in which jurors find out if their numbers are among those selected (not all jurors chosen for a given date are always needed). Jurors also can check in using the court’s juror services page at clarkcountycourts.us (through the website, jurors can select a preferred method of contact and can set up automated calls to remind them when to check in.).

Finally, the notice includes a questionnaire requesting personal information like age, ethnicity, whether he or she is a U.S. citizen, how long he or she has lived in Clark County, and employment and marital status. It’s designed to determine whether the potential juror is qualified to serve.

Will you have to serve? If your number doesn’t come up, you’re off the hook and don’t need to check in at the Regional Justice Center (RJC).

STEP 2: Reporting for duty

Where should I park?

Use the Fremont Street Experience garage and bring your parking tickets to be validated at the RJC.

Forget your questionnaire?

The court has added Wi-Fi-enabled pads that allow jurors to fill out their qualification questionnaires at the RJC if need be.

For those whose numbers are selected, the next step is to report to the RJC.

Potential jurors may be called to report as early as 7:30 a.m. and to stay as late as 5 p.m. Reporting and release time may vary based on the court calendar. They are instructed to report to the jury assembly room on the third floor and check in either by using touch-screen kiosks or provide a clerk with their names and IDs. In some courtrooms*, other matters occur in the morning, requiring jury selection to start later.

*Trial schedules can vary by judge, but it’s common for them to begin around 9 or 10 a.m. daily and recess at 5 or 6 p.m.

Will you have to serve? Not all jurors who report to the RJC will be needed on any given day. Once an individual has served jury duty the Eighth Judicial District Court, he or she won’t be called to serve again in the same court for at least 18 months.

STEP 3: Selection

To provide enough prospective jurors, officials choose groups of several dozen for each jury trial. They are called by number in the jury selection room. Those selected must submit their jury notice to a clerk. It contains a badge with a bar code that is scanned into a database so their records can be tracked.

The automated jury system assigns prospective jurors to one of the cases on the docket for that day. The juror badge barcode is scanned for attendance.

Will you have to serve? You’re getting closer. Your next stop is a courtroom.

STEP 4: Questioning

Excuses, excuses

Coming up with an excuse not to serve isn’t difficult. But just because someone has an excuse, doesn’t mean he or she will be cut loose. Judges can ask questions to find out if the excuse is bogus, and they have discretion to ignore it. Mary Ann Price, Clark County court information officer, offers advice about how to approach jury service. “Before people are quick to try to get out of it, they ought to think about what they’re trying to get out of,” she said. “We’ve heard from a lot of people who said that a judge made them serve, and they came away being really glad they did.”

Prospective jurors are taken to the courtroom where the trial to which they’ve been assigned is being held. They participate in rounds of questioning known as voir dire (a Latin term meaning “to say what is true”). The judge asks them questions — how long they’ve lived in Las Vegas, what they and their spouse do for a living, etc. They also may be asked whether they or anyone in their family has been charged with a crime, and whether there is anything that would prevent them from service.

The purpose is to determine if jurors are fit to serve and whether they have any biases for or against law enforcement officials or people charged with crimes. Finally, attorneys for the prosecution and defense ask questions of their own, based on prospective jurors’ responses to the judge.

Attorneys or the judge can either pass jurors on to the next step or ask for them to be excused “for cause,” meaning there’s some reason it wouldn’t be appropriate for them to serve.

Will you have to serve? Even if you get called into the jury box, you may still get sent home. There are several reasons you can be excused for cause, including: language barrier, suffering from a medical condition, taking medication, being your family’s sole source of income and therefore unable to take time off work, or having an unavoidable scheduling conflict. If you pass, there’s still one more hurdle.

STEP 5: Challenges

How long do cases last?

It can vary greatly, depending on the nature of the case, the number of witnesses and the complexity of the evidence. A criminal trial in which the defendant was clearly identified, the witnesses are clear about what they saw and there is evidence connecting the defendant to the crime might not last long. A contract dispute involving mountains of documents and complicated issues like patent law, medical malpractice legislation or tax laws could take weeks.

Once 12 jurors initially seated, each attorney gets eight chances to strike a juror without providing a reason for doing so. This is called a peremptory challenge. When the attorneys exercise that option, the next prospective juror in line is brought into the jury box to face voir dire. Voir dire and peremptory challenges continue until there are 12 jurors and two alternates seated for the trial.

It's time to serve. If you make it through voir dire and the peremptory challenges, you’ll be seated.

What NOT to do now that you’re on a jury:

• Don’t blab. Jurors shouldn’t talk about the case with one another, the attorneys, defendants or witnesses. What’s more, they’re not supposed to allow people to talk about the case in their presence — and that means anybody.

• Don’t snoop. Jurors aren’t supposed to read, view or listen to media accounts of the trial, or go online to search about it. They’re also instructed not to visit the scene of the crime, do research about laws or technicalities or otherwise become an amateur investigator.

• Don’t judge — until it’s time. Jurors are told not to form an opinion until the full facts of the case have been presented to them.

• Don’t be late. Being tardy wastes the time of everybody involved.

• Formal dress isn’t required, but jurors are prohibited from wearing shorts, halter tops, muscle shirts or hats.

What cases do juries hear

• Criminal: Cases involving violent crimes against people, like murder, rape and robbery (which is the term for sticking someone up or breaking into a house or car while someone is in it), and property crimes, like theft and burglary (breaking into a house or car while it’s unoccupied).

• Civil: Disputes between individuals, businesses and organizations, like breaches of contract and medical malpractice claims.

There are no juries in small-claims court, which is for civil disputes involving modest amounts of damages.

What cases are tried in Las Vegas

• Clark County District Court: Cases stemming from local and state authorities, such as Metro Police, North Las Vegas and Henderson police, and the Nevada Highway Patrol. Also the jurisdiction for civil cases that don’t involve interstate disputes. The information presented here is mostly for Clark County, because that’s where the majority of jury trials in Las Vegas are held.

• U.S. District Court: Criminal cases involving federal authorities, like the FBI or Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Also civil cases that involve parties from two or more states. One of the bigger differences about serving on a federal court jury is that prospective candidates must fill out an eight-page questionnaire when summoned.

• Municipal courts: Generally for violations of city statutes, like traffic infractions, city code violations, overdue parking fines, etc. Although jury trials are held at the municipal level in some places, that’s not the case in Las Vegas.

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