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Thousands of times each week in state and federal courts around the country, petit juries reach verdicts in civil or criminal cases. These citizens perform a vital function in our system of justice—jury duty. A group of six to 12 persons from all sections of the community listen to the facts of a case and come to a verdict.
Courts exist to decide disputes, which are brought before them. Generally, the courts hear two types of cases: criminal cases and civil cases. A civil case is usually one for money damages. The party suing is called the plaintiff and the party against whom the action is brought is the respondent or defendant. In a criminal case, the prosecutor decides whether to file charges against a person accused of breaking the law. The person charged with the crime is called the defendant. In criminal cases, the jury will have to decide whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty of the crime(s) of which he or she is accused.
In most trial courts there are court officers known as the court reporter, court clerk and bailiff. The court reporter acts as the record keeper, the clerk administers the oath and assists with jury selection and the bailiff maintains order and decorum in the courtroom. The judge presides over a case, instructs the jury and decides questions of law.
Selection of Jurors
Once a year, a computer merges the county’s driver license, voter registration, and Minnesota identification cardholders into one list. From this list, by random selection, jurors are chosen and sent a summons to appear for jury duty. The summons requires the juror to call a "jury information line" to receive instructions on when to report to the courthouse.
When the juror reports to the courthouse, court personnel will provide orientation and instructions. Following orientation, jurors will go through the jury selection process. Jurors will be provided information about the case and questioned by the court and the lawyers for each side. If during questioning, it appears that a juror cannot be fair and impartial, the attorney may challenge the juror for cause. The judge decides whether the juror would not be able to serve. If the judge allows the challenge, the juror is excused from that case. Another type of challenge is the peremptory challenge. The peremptory challenge requires no reason for excusing a juror. Jurors not excused and seated will comprise the jury. Jurors are sworn in and then are responsible to hear the evidence and follow the case to completion of trial.