Ordinary citizens are likely to take part in the processes of government in one of two ways during their lifetime: either as a voter or when summoned to serve as a juror in a trial court.

The right to a trial by jury is an important safeguard for all Americans. It is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states that “the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.”

Types of juries
There are two main types of juries:

  • Grand jury
  • Petit jury

A grand jury is convened to decide whether there is enough evidence to charge someone with a crime. A petit jury is a trial jury. It listens to the evidence and decides whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. Most jury summons are for petit juries.

Your obligation to serve
All states and the federal government require U.S. citizens to perform jury duty if called upon to do so. If you are summoned to jury duty and do not appear, you may be held in contempt of court and have to pay a fine.

Each court decides how potential jurors are chosen. Usually, jurors are randomly chosen from drivers’ license or voter registration lists. Most states require that jurors be at least 18 years old, a U.S. citizen and able to understand English.

There are some exemptions, but they are rarely handed out. The exemptions vary from state to state, but often include health, child-care obligations and age.

Pay and work leave for jurors
Because jury duty is considered an important civic responsibility, employers may not discriminate against you for taking time off to serve on a jury. In some states, you may also be entitled to pay while you are on jury duty.

What to expect in court
Though you are summoned to jury duty, you may not actually have to serve on a trial. If you do end up sitting on a trial, the trial process can be complicated and involve many different participants. Among some of the participants are the attorneys for both sides, court officers and witnesses.

In most places jury duty lasts from two to four weeks. However, in some areas, jury duty may last considerably longer. Some states also have the option to adopt a “one day or one trial” system. Under this system, a juror may not be required to serve or attend court for prospective service as a juror for more than one day in a two-to-four year time period unless more days are necessary to complete service in a particular case.

The role of the juror
The jury usually consists of between six and 12 jurors. The juror’s role is to listen to all the evidence and to impartially decide the case.