Why Have I Been Called for Jury Service?
Most people have been called for jury service at one time or another. Some will see the requirement of jury service as a time-consuming imposition, while others not only readily accept this obligation as a basic requirement of citizenship, but find the experience to be interesting and even ennobling.
The right to a jury trial in criminal cases is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, while the Seventh Amendment provides for jury trials in most civil cases. Obviously, we cannot have jury trials without jurors. So, who is subject to the requirement of jury service and who is not?
Under the Code of Virginia, subject to certain exceptions and qualifications, all citizens over 18 years of age who have been residents of the Commonwealth for one year, and of the locality of where they reside for six months, shall be liable to serve as jurors. No person is deemed incompetent to serve as a juror in Virginia because of blindness or partial blindness. United States military personnel are not considered residents of the Commonwealth by reason of their being stationed in Virginia.
Some categories of persons are statutorily disqualified from serving as jurors in Virginia, including persons adjudicated as being incapacitated and convicted felons. With regard to convicted felons, the issue of restoration by the Governor of the political rights of felons who have completed their sentences has been in the news in Virginia recently, with the emphasis being on the question of the restoration of voting rights. Another of the political rights that are subject to restoration by the Governor under appropriate circumstances is the right to serve on juries.
Certain persons are exempt from serving on juries in civil and criminal cases in Virginia by virtue of the offices they hold, including the President and Vice President of the United States; Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General of the Commonwealth; the members of both houses of Congress, and the members of the Virginia General Assembly while in session; the judges of any Court in Virginia; law enforcement officers; and the superintendents of penitentiaries and jails. Also exempt from jury service are licensed practicing attorneys.
Finally, there are categories of persons who may serve on juries but who shall be exempt from jury service upon request, including any person over 70 years of age and persons who are legally, necessarily and personally responsible for a child or children 16 years of age or younger who require continuous care during normal court hours.Virginia law establishes jury commissioners for each Circuit Court who are responsible for preparation of a master jury list. The law directs the jury commissioners to utilize random selection techniques, using current voter registration lists and, where feasible, a list of persons who have been issued Virginia driver’s licenses. If approved by the Chief Judge of the Circuit, other lists may be utilized by the jury commissioners, including telephone books and personal property tax rolls.
The objective of the jury commissioners is, by statute, “…to select the jurors representative of the broad community interests.” Interestingly, while Virginia law provides an exemption from jury service for licensed practicing attorneys, it does not bar lawyers from serving on a jury when a lawyer is willing to waive the exemption. The ability of a licensed practicing attorney to waive the exemption and qualify for jury service is somewhat controversial, since some are concerned that a lawyer on a jury will have an untoward influence on the jury’s decision in the case.
Jury service is an obligation of citizenship shared by most people. Our system of justice, based upon resolution of disputes and questions of guilt or innocence by one’s peers would come to a grinding halt without the service of citizen jurors.