The right to a trial by a jury of our peers is one of the foundations of the American judicial system. More than 50,000 people will serve on juries in the U.S. each year. But how are jurors selected? It varies by state, but in Minnesota, the judicial branch obtains a yearly list of licensed drivers, registered voters, and state ID holders. From these lists, a computer randomly selects people for jury duty. If you are a registered vote, licensed driver, or ID card holder in Minnesota, chances are you will be selected eventually. So, you got a jury summons in the mail. What next? In this article, we’ll walk you through the responsibilities of jurors, the types of cases for which jurors might be selected, and how you may be able to postpone your service.

Responsibilities of Jurors

Juries are an integral part of ensuring that each case is viewed and decided in an impartial, thoughtful, and fair manner. For each case, the judge will determine what laws apply to the case at hand and give instructions to the jury on those laws at the end of the trial. At this point, the jury takes over. After having listened and carefully considered all of the evidence and witness testimony, the jury determines which facts are most credible and then applies those facts to the laws an instructed by the judge to reach a verdict in the case.

Types of Juries

In Minnesota, juries may consider both civil and criminal cases. Civil cases involve a dispute between two or more parties. The parties can be people, organizations, or companies. The dispute might involve a contract, lease, property rights, personal rights, or employment. Civil cases cover a wide range of disputes over personal and property rights. Criminal cases are filed on behalf of the state of Minnesota against people or organizations accused of committing crimes.

Serving on a Jury – What’s Involved?

Every county in Minnesota may have a slightly different process. You can look up location specific information on the Minnesota courts website. Generally, however, your jury service will follow this process:

  1. Complete your jury questionnaire:

You have 10 days after receiving your jury summons to complete this and you may complete it online.

  1. Voir dire:

Voir dire is the selection of the jury. When you report for jury duty and a case is called, people will be randomly called to report to the courtroom for questions, also known as voir dire. You may be questioned individually or as a group. If you feel you shouldn’t serve as a juror or you know the parties, witnesses, or attorneys involved in the case, you should let the judge know right away. During the interview, you may be excused if an attorney feels you can’t be impartial, or you may be excused with a peremptory challenge, which does not require the attorney to give a reason.

  1. Jury orientation:

Once the jury is selected, the court will explain more about your duties and the jury will take an oath.

  1. The trial:

During the trial, the parties will present evidence and witnesses supporting each side. The evidence may also include physical exhibits such as photographs, charts, or videos. For each witness, both sides will have a chance to ask questions.

  1. After the trial:

After the trial and closing arguments, the judge will issue instructions to the jury. The jury will then retreat to a private room to deliberate and decide on a verdict.

Postponing Jury Duty

If you are summoned for jury duty, you must serve unless one of the following conditions applies:

  • You are not a citizen of the United States.
  • You are under 18.
  • You aren’t a resident of the county that summoned you.
  • You can’t communicate in English.
  • You have a disability that would prevent you from serving.
  • You have been convicted of a felony and are still on parole or under the supervision of the court.
  • You have served on a jury within the last four years.
  • You are a judge in the judicial branch of government.
  • You are over 70 and asked to be excused.

If serving on a jury would currently be a hardship because of employment, vacation, family business, or other reason, you can request a one-time postponement of nine months. You can request a postponement online or by calling the number on your jury summons.

Serving on a jury may seem inconvenient, but it is an important civic duty asked of all eligible Americans. If you have the chance to serve, you just may learn a thing or two about our unique judicial system.

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Photo of Cynthia Brown Cynthia Brown

Cynthia Brown is a founding shareholder with the Brown Law Offices, P.A., a northwest Twin Cities divorce and family law firm. She is an honors graduate of the University of South Dakota and William Mitchell College of Law. Cynthia’s practice focuses almost exclusively on divorce and family law issues. She publishes a monthly family law column for the Minnesota Lawyer newspaper, and has contributed to Divorce Magazine and The Family Law Forum. Cynthia also serves as a panel attorney for the Anoka County Family Law Clinic.