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Jury Service A Right, Privilege And Obligation

Jury Selection

I was at a hearing in Amite in Tangipohoa Parish today (March 5, 2015) when my eyes came across the headline in the local newspaper: “Jury scofflaws irk judge.” It didn’t take long to realize that local Judge Robert Morrison had grown tired of citizens skipping jury duty. He ordered 14 of the “scofflaws” arrested for contempt of court for not showing up.

It is an honor, right, privilege and overall wonderful experience to serve on a jury in America. Nowhere in the world is there a system like ours where 12 of our peers are chosen to decide our civil disputes and criminal cases where the state has brought felony charges against a fellow citizen.

I have spoken to many persons who served on juries I was involved with and on other juries. To the person, everyone expressed how much they enjoyed the trial they were called to decide. They relished the opportunity to decide the case after all the evidence was presented. While no one was happy with the long selection process, those chosen to serve enjoyed just about every minute of their service.

Still, I get calls every year from friends and acquaintances who have gotten a jury summons and want to know if they qualify for an exemption. I refer everyone to the state law that sets forth the qualifications for jury duty, and I print it verbatim below (Arts. 401 and 787 of the La. Code of Criminal Procedure, which applies to jurors in criminal and civil cases):

Art. 401. General qualifications of jurors

A. In order to qualify to serve as a juror, a person must:

(1) Be a citizen of the United States and of this state who has resided within the parish in which he is to serve as a juror for at least one year immediately preceding his jury service.

(2) Be at least eighteen years of age.

(3) Be able to read, write, and speak the English language and be possessed of sufficient knowledge of the English language.

(4) Not be under interdiction or incapable of serving as a juror because of a mental or physical infirmity, provided that no person shall be deemed incompetent solely because of the loss of hearing in any degree.

(5) Not be under indictment for a felony nor have been convicted of a felony for which he has not been pardoned by the governor.

B. Notwithstanding any provision in Subsection A, a person may be challenged for cause on one or more of the following:

(1) A loss of hearing or the existence of any other incapacity which satisfies the court that the challenged person is incapable of performing the duties of a juror in the particular action without prejudice to the substantial rights of the challenging party.

(2) When reasonable doubt exists as to the competency of the prospective juror to serve as provided for in Code of Criminal Procedure Article 787.

Art. 787. Disqualification of petit jurors in particular cases

The court may disqualify a prospective petit juror from service in a particular case when for any reasonable doubt exists as to the competency of the prospective juror to serve in the case.

Louisiana law encourages participation in the jury system, and we urge all of our clients and friends to approach receipt of a jury summons with the understanding that you have been chosen to serve on one of the greatest institutions in the world.(See LSA-R.S. 13:3041, which states in part:

A. It is the policy of this state that all qualified citizens have an obligation to serve on petit juries when summoned by the courts of this state, unless excused.

If you meet all the qualifications but feel you still have a very valid reason for an excuse, your best bet is to call the Judge who is holding the jury trial and explain your plight. Sickness, family illnesses, offshore or out of state work can sometimes result in an excuse, although many judges require you to report for the next round of jury service after your particular “excuse” is resolved.