From the Bench

Judge: Jury duty in Surprise City Court

Surprise judge details law

Posted 9/20/22

If you had to describe your jury duty experience in one word, would it be: Interesting? Boring? Inconvenient? Gratifying? Educational? Tough? Or Better-Than-I-Really-Expected?

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From the Bench

Judge: Jury duty in Surprise City Court

Surprise judge details law

Posted

If you had to describe your jury duty experience in one word, would it be: Interesting? Boring? Inconvenient? Gratifying? Educational? Tough? Or Better-Than-I-Really-Expected?

If you’ve ever been summoned for jury duty, you probably know it can be all those things, even in the very same case. Yet serving on a jury is one of the great privileges of being an American citizen.

In this issue of From the Bench, we explain some basics about jury duty in Surprise City Court. But first, a little perspective.

The right to a trial by jury goes back to the inception of our nation. It is rooted in the Declaration of Independence (which lists as one of the many grievances against the King of England, “depriving us … of the benefits of trial by jury”), and is guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Under the Arizona Constitution, the right to a trial by jury “shall remain inviolate.”

But it wasn’t always this way.

In ancient times, legal disputes were resolved with “trials by ordeal.” Ordeals, overseen by members of the clergy, were essentially appeals to supernatural forces to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused. The most common ordeals were by divination, battle, and physical test.

In a divination ordeal, the accused was put to a painful or dangerous “test” (such as having to hold a red-hot iron), under the belief that God would intervene and perform a miracle to protect an innocent person from suffering any harm. In an ordeal by battle, the accuser and the accused (or perhaps their more physically able representatives) would engage in a battle or duel to the death. And an ordeal by physical test often involved fire (recall the 17th century Salem witch hunts) or water. In a water ordeal, the accused was bound in the fetal position and thrown into a lake or river to see if they would sink, and thus be innocent, or float, and thus be guilty.

Fortunately, we no longer resolve legal disputes with trials by ordeal. Instead we have trials by jury, where citizens from the community are summoned to court to fairly and impartially evaluate the evidence and reach a verdict based on the facts and the law. Most will agree we are much better off for having this system of justice.

And today, any judge who would fine the jurors and threaten to “cut off the nose” of the jury foreperson in disagreement with their verdict (as reported about a 1670 case from England, where the jury declined to convict two Quakers of preaching in the streets), would presumably not be long for the bench. In a jury trial, any opinion the judge may have regarding the defendant’s guilt or innocence is irrelevant; that decision is one for the jury alone.

Jury Duty Basics

Qualifications: To serve as a juror in an Arizona court, one must be at least 18 years old, a U.S. citizen, a current resident of the jurisdiction in which they are summoned to serve, never convicted of a felony unless their civil rights have been restored, and not currently adjudicated mentally incompetent or insane.

How are names and addresses obtained? Potential jurors are randomly selected from Arizona’s Department of Motor Vehicles and Voter Registration databases. Those individuals are then summoned to a specific court for a date certain.

How much notice is given? Summonses for jury duty in Surprise City Court are usually sent five or six weeks before the required report date.

Is every case tried to a jury? No. Surprise City Court is a court of limited jurisdiction, with authority to hear misdemeanor crimes, petty offenses, civil traffic and civil marijuana charges, and city code violations. But only a handful of misdemeanor crimes are jury eligible under Arizona law.

The most common jury eligible offense filed in Surprise City Court is misdemeanor DUI, for driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs. Other jury-

eligible misdemeanors include Shoplifting or Theft, Reckless Driving, Indecent Exposure, False Imprisonment, Resisting Arrest, Aggressive Driving, and Causing Death by a Moving Violation. If you are summoned for jury duty in Surprise City Court, it will likely be for a trial on one or more of those charges.

Other misdemeanors, petty offenses, and all civil charges filed in our court are tried to a judge. (All felony charges, which are filed in the superior or justice courts, are jury eligible regardless of the crime alleged.)

I received a summons; what’s next? Promptly complete the check-in process on the Jury Services website noted on your summons, and respond to all questions asked. Otherwise, your check-in at the court may be delayed.

What if I need to reschedule? You may request a postponement through the Jury Services website or by following the instructions on your summons.

Can I be excused instead? Some circumstances (such as being 75 years of age or older) will allow one to be excused from jury duty. Such requests must be in writing, with supporting documentation, and directed to the Jury Commissioner’s Office.

What if I just don’t show up? A person who willfully and without reasonable excuse fails to appear for jury service may be found to be in contempt of court. So reschedule if you must, but come to court when required!

What about my job? Your employer must give you time off for jury duty. While some employers pay their employees for time missed from work, they are not required to do so.

Will I be paid for jury duty? Arizona law provides for a minimal stipend of $12 for each day’s service on a jury, plus mileage reimbursement at the same rate paid to state officers and employees. Those who are not selected for the jury will receive the mileage reimbursement.

Can I check the day before to see if I’m still needed? Yes. After 5 p.m. the day before your jury duty report date, call the court at 623-222-4810 to check the juror

status. A recorded message will advise whether you must come to court, have been placed on standby, or are excused.

If required to appear: There is free parking at the court, and free Wi-Fi in the building. You will be screened by security at the entrance. Weapons of any kind are prohibited. Please dress appropriately for court. “Business casual” is always good; consider wearing layers as temperatures in the courthouse will vary.

What can I bring with me? Bring your summons! You may also bring water (we provide bottled water), a snack, a lunch (although many jurors prefer to have lunch at a local restaurant), reading materials, and your electronic device for use while waiting to be called into the courtroom and during breaks. Do not bring your children, family, or friends.

Juror check-in: Once through security, you will check in with court staff in the Jury Assembly Room, where you will watch a video and soon be welcomed by the judge. Those present will be randomly assigned to a jury panel list.

How is the jury selected? People are summoned for jury duty from all walks of life, and each person brings their own life experiences; the judges and attorneys understand that. The purpose of the jury selection process (called voir dire, meaning “to speak the truth”) is to seat a jury of individuals who can serve as fair and impartial judges in the case at bar, unbiased toward either side, and who will follow the law as instructed in determining the facts.

To begin the selection process, panelists are seated in the courtroom by juror number. The judge will place the group under oath, to avow that they will truthfully answer all questions asked. In turn, each panelist will answer the biographical questions (occupation, marital status, and the like) on the back of their juror number card.

Next the judge will ask questions of the entire group, with those whose answer to any question is “yes” simply holding up their juror number card. The group will then return to the Jury Assembly Room, with individuals called back in one at a time for follow-up conversations with the judge and attorneys.

When there are sufficient panelists who have been passed to serve on the jury, everyone will return to the courtroom. The judge will announce the names of those who will serve on the jury, and excuse the rest. This is often done by early afternoon.

How many will serve? For misdemeanor charges, Arizona law requires a jury of six people. Surprise City Court typically seats seven jurors, one of whom will be randomly selected at the end of the trial to serve as the alternate.

How long will the trial last? The court is open 8 a.m. -5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Jurors are usually not asked to stay past 5 p.m. Most of our jury trials are completed in two days.

Is waiting the hardest part? Hopefully, yes! But know that the court and the attorneys are working, even as you wait. We understand the value of your time and use our best efforts to use it well. But in any trial, some down time for the jury is unavoidable.

The bottom line: We cannot do this job without you. By coming to court and contributing your time and effort – whether you are seated on the jury or are excused – you allow us to honor one of the most fundamental rights of our system of justice: the constitutional right to a trial by jury. For that, we thank you, and look forward to welcoming you to Surprise City Court. For more information, see www.azcourts.gov/juryduty/jury-service-what-to-expect.

Editor’s Note: Judge Catherine Gaudreau is the associate judge for the city of Surprise.

Judge Catherine A. Gaudreau, Surprise City Court