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What to Know When Called for Jury Duty

Jury Duty in Tennessee

As trial lawyers, we are frequently asked questions about jury duty. To help folks better understand the process, below are the basics of jury duty in Tennessee.

Who Can Be a Juror in Tennessee?

Under Tennessee law, a person is qualified to serve as a juror if he or she is (a) a citizen of the United States; (b) a resident of Tennessee, (c) a resident of the county where summoned to be a juror and (d) is at least 18 years old. The length of residency required for (a), (b) and (c) is 12 months prior to the date on the jury summons. So if you have only lived in the State of Tennessee and your county for 10 months, you are not qualified to be a juror under Tennessee law.

A person who meets all of the above criteria can still be disqualified from serving as a juror if any of the following apply:

  1. The potential juror has been convicted of a felony or “other infamous offense”;
  2. The potential juror has been convicted of perjury or subordination of perjury;
  3. The potential juror has an interest in the outcome of the case;
  4. The potential juror is related within the 6th degree to one of the parties;
Do I Have to Serve as a Juror?

If you have been summoned for jury duty, service is mandatory unless you are excused, which is discussed in greater detail below.

How Do I Get Out of Jury Duty?

Let me start with an admonition first. You should not try and get out of jury duty unless you have a valid reason as discussed below. From talking to folks who have served on a jury, most of them found it interesting and were ultimately glad they had the opportunity to serve. But more importantly, the jury system relies on smart, conscientious citizens to function. If you or your loved one had to go to trial, you would want the best jury you could get and that does not happen if folks who are otherwise able try to get out of jury duty.

Now with that lecture out of the way, some folks truly have valid reasons why they cannot participate in jury duty. One of the biggest reasons is a person is suffering with either a physical or mental condition which renders them unable to serve. For instance, a prospective juror who has kidney disease and undergoes dialysis three times per week will not be able to serve. If you believe your physical or mental condition prevents you from serving, be prepared to have documentation of your condition from a licensed physician.

Another common reason folks need to be excused from jury duty is if the “person’s service will constitute an undue or extreme physical or financial hardship to the prospective juror or to a person under the prospective juror’s care or supervision.” To be clear, the fact that you will miss work is not enough by itself to seek excusal under this provisions although if you are self-employed then you will have a better chance of being excused. An example of what might qualify is if your spouse has a medical condition requiring constant care and you are his primary caregiver and you are unable to afford or find an appropriate substitute caregiver during jury service.

By statute, the request must be made before the person is scheduled to begin jury service. In addition, the person seeking to be excused must provide documentation such as income tax returns, medical statements from licensed physicians, an affidavit indicating the person is unable to secure an adequate substitute caregiver during the dates of jury service, proof of dependency or guardianship, etc.

Even if you are excused from this round of jury service, the judge must have the person serve within the next 24 months unless a permanent excuse is warranted.

Some states will disqualify or excuse a juror if they are unable to read or write. That does not constitute an automatic exclusion in Tennessee.

What is Jury Selection or Voir Dire?

This is the part of the trial where the lawyers get to ask you lots and lots of questions. Some questions will be directed to all the prospective jurors in general and others will be specific to an individual juror. For instance, in a trucking accident case, one of the lawyers may the entire group if any of the prospective jurors has ever worked for a trucking company? If any of the jurors indicate they have worked for a trucking company, those jurors will most likely be asked to provide information about the name of the company for which they worked, their position at the company, etc. Lawyers ask a lot of questions during voir dire not to be nosy, but to ensure, as best they can, that their clients have an impartial jury.

During jury selection, you may be excused either for cause or via a peremptory challenge. Examples of a for cause challenge would be the juror does not meet residency requirements, knows one of the parties, etc. Peremptory challenges allow a party to excuse a juror for any reason not prohibited by law (such as race, gender, etc.). For instance, in a medical malpractice case, a party may use a peremptory challenge to excuse a juror who has a bunch of doctors in the family. The thought being that the prospective juror, based on his family relations, may be predisposed to side with the doctors even before hearing the evidence.

What Should I Wear to Jury Duty?

Casual attire is permitted but most courts will not allow shorts, tank tops, etc. Whatever you decide to wear, be sure that it is comfortable as you will be sitting for long periods of time. We also advise you to dress in layers as the temperatures in courthouses vary widely. Unless worn for religious purposes, most courts will not allow jurors, or anyone else, to wear hats.

What Is Expected of Jurors?

During voir dire or jury selection, all that is expected is that you listen to the judge and lawyers’ questions and answer them honestly and fully. The parties have spent a lot of time and a lot of money preparing their case. And, it is incredibly important to all involved that they have a fair and impartial jury. The last thing anyone wants is to go through the arduous trial process only to have the verdict invalidated because a juror was not as forthcoming as they should have been. But unfortunately, this happens more often than anyone would want. For instance, in the Vanderbilt rape trial, the defendants sought a new trial because a juror allegedly failed to honestly and fully respond to a question during voir dire.

Once trial has started, the lawyers, parties and judge need jurors to keep an open mind until all the evidence has been introduced. They need jurors to be attentive and listen to all the information presented to them. The judge will give you some additional do’s and don’ts such as not talking to the parties, not doing independent research, etc. In addition, some judges allow jurors to ask questions. In those situations, if you have a question, please ask it. And, if you are unable to see a piece of evidence or hear the proceedings, please let someone know.

How Long Does Jury Duty Take?

It depends on a number of factors. For instance, if you actually serve on a jury, you may be released even though you were due to serve longer. And, you may not have to report every day. Most courts utilize a call-in system where you can call-in the night before to determine if you are needed the next day.

Anything Else I Should Know?

Despite everyone’s best efforts, there are often delays in the process. For instance, before a trial gets underway, the parties may have some final preliminary matters to address with the judge. Or, during the trial, the court may have to stop the proceedings to address an emergency issue in another case. While the lawyers and court are working on these issues, the jurors are unfortunately just waiting. So, take a book, some magazines, your i-Pad, some knitting or something else to occupy yourself with during these waiting periods. And be patient; everyone really is trying to make things move as quickly as possible.

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