Judge Greg Galler
Have you ever thought about the unique importance of serving on a jury? Citizens, as jurors, voluntarily give their time and effort on behalf of this fundamental right. Jurors serve as neutral judges of the facts and as the conscience of the community for the cases that they hear.
Citizen-jurors directly participate in and ultimately decide court cases. The issues that juries are called upon to hear are incredibly important both to individuals and to society. This direct, personal involvement of citizens as the ultimate decision-maker happens only in the judicial branch. There is no similar citizen role in either the legislative or executive branches of government.
In criminal cases jurors ensure that no one is convicted unless the state has proven guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil cases jurors determine whether or not a party has been wronged and, if so, what the proper legal remedy will be to right that wrong.
Many people ask me how the courts decide who will serve on juries.
First, there are a number of legal requirements for jury service. Basically, a person must reside in the county where the case is heard, be at least 18 years old and be a United States citizen. Convicted felons can’t serve as jurors unless their civil rights have been restored.
The court system randomly selects names of potential jurors from driver’s license, state ID card, and voter registration records. Some people have been selected a number of times in their lives for jury duty while others will never be called.
Of those receiving jury duty notices, a smaller group is then randomly selected for each specific case to participate in the jury selection process – known as Voir Dire. This French term means “to speak the truth.” Prospective jurors have a duty to speak truthfully regarding their qualifications to serve.
Potential jurors are questioned by the judge and by each party to seek out any cause, bias or partiality that would prevent them from serving fairly. A qualified juror must be willing and able to decide cases based only on the evidence received in court and in accordance with the law.
As each party participates in the Voir Dire process, there is a greater confidence that every jury member is qualified to serve and will seek the truth.
The Minnesota Supreme Court has declared the week surrounding National Law Day (May 1) to be Juror Appreciation Week. Throughout the year we should be thankful that our fellow citizens give their time and effort to safeguard this uniquely important aspect of our justice system.
Judge Galler is chambered in Washington County. Send general questions about the law or courts for Judge Galler to the editor of this newspaper at [email protected] Learn more about Judge Galler, or listen to a podcast of his columns, at www.judgegreggaller.com.