How Are Jurors Selected?
There are two steps in the jury selection process. The first step is taken when a person’s name is placed on a list to be summoned for jury duty. The second step is taken when a person is chosen for jury duty in an individual case.
Jury lists represent a random computer selection of persons living within a given area based upon lists of names supplied by the Secretary of State Motor Vehicle Division. These lists include the names of licensed Maine drivers, people with State ID’s and people who have asked to be eligible for jury service. Each person selected is sent a questionnaire which must be completed and a summons which instructs the prospective juror to report for jury service on a specific date at a specific time and court location.
People who need to be excused from jury duty must contact the court clerk before reporting to jury duty. The clerk may excuse or postpone service and in some cases will seek the approval of the judge. A certain minimum number of jurors is required for different proceedings. For this reason, excuses are granted only for serious reasons.
If you have a substantial mental or physical handicap which may affect your ability to serve as a juror, please bring this to the attention of the clerk as soon as possible. However, the courts generally can accommodate jurors with a wide range of physical limitations. Please speak to the clerk if you have any concerns of this nature. Also, bear in mind that all jurors serve at some degree of economic hardship. For that reason, the court cannot excuse you from jury service merely because you may incur economic difficulty unless the hardship is extreme. For jurors with significant financial hardships, the court can often fashion limited service which will minimize the impact of service. Again, please speak to the clerk before your date of service if you have any concerns.
After all the evidence has been presented and the attorneys have made their final arguments, the judge will instruct the jury about the law which applies to the particular case being tried. Once the judge has given these instructions, the case is submitted to the jury. Any jury alternates who have been sitting on the case will be excused at this time. The jury will retire to the jury room to begin its deliberation. Please note that this is the first opportunity for jurors to speak about the facts of the case with any other person. When a person reports for jury duty, that person becomes a member of a jury pool. This pool is brought before a Superior Court justice, who speaks with them about jury service.
Once the judge has instructed the jury, jury selection will begin with the voir dire examination. Generally,voir dire involves questions addressed to the jury by the judge. In some cases, the judge, the attorneys or both may ask questions of the entire group. In some cases, jurors are questioned individually, while all other jurors remain out of the courtroom.
The purpose of voir dire is to discover if there are reasons why any juror cannot be fair about the case. If you cannot be objective about the case or if you have a personal interest in it, you should tell the judge at this time. Jurors may be removed by challenge for cause. This means there are reasons why the juror may not be able to be impartial and fair. There is no limit to the number of jurors who may be challenged for cause. A second way a juror may be removed is by peremptory challenge. Each party is allowed a certain number of these challenges, which require that a juror be excused without explanation. If you are challenged, do not be offended. Each lawyer is trying to help his or her client’s case. Being challenged should not be considered as an unfavorable reflection of your character.
In all criminal cases, twelve jurors are selected and impaneled, unless the parties agree to a lesser number. In civil cases, a minimum of eight jurors are selected and impaneled, unless the parties agree to a lesser number. Alternate jurors may be impaneled so that the trial can continue if a member of the regular panel must be excused. After voir dire, those people who will make up the jury panel are given the Juror’s Solemn Oath. Jurors who do not wish to swear the oath may request to affirm their support of it.
After the oath is sworn, the jury has been impaneled. This means the jury is official. Now the trial will begin.