Welcome! You've been selected for jury service in a North Dakota court. You have a key role in the state's justice system. The right to a trial by jury is one of the foundation stones of this country's courts. You probably have a lot of questions. Who wouldn't? We’ve answered some of the most frequently asked questions below. If you have other questions, feel free to contact your local District Court Clerk.
You will also find brief descriptions of trial procedures and a short dictionary explaining some of the legal terms you might hear during your jury service. We hope this booklet is helpful. If you have any suggestions for other items to cover in this document, or any other comments on it, please contact your local District Court Clerk.
Questions & Answers
Not really, but you will have to answer some questions. All the jurors called for a particular term are in the courtroom at the start of a trial. The clerk of court randomly selects names and the persons take their places in the jury box. When a sufficient number have been selected, they are sworn in for jury examination. This examination is called the voir dire (pronounced vwor deer) examination and is usually conducted by the lawyers in the case, although sometimes a judge will participate or conduct it.
The judge or one of the lawyers begins voir dire with a short explanation of the case. While this is not proof or evidence, you should pay attention since this is the first information you'll receive about the case.
The examination seeks to find out if a prospective juror has a personal interest in the case, or has any prejudice or preconceived notions about the case that might make it impossible to serve as an impartial juror. Examples might be a juror related to someone involved with the case, or who strongly believes that all shoplifters should be jailed for a year. In such a case, the juror can be challenged by one of the lawyers and the court will excuse him or her from the jury panel. Another prospective juror is then called.
There are two types of challenges. One is for cause, such as was just described. Each side has an unlimited number of these. If the judge thinks a cause is sufficient, the juror will be excused. The other type of challenge is called peremptory. The number of these allowed each side ranges from four in most civil cases to ten in murder cases. No reasons have to be given for these challenges.
Being challenged off a jury panel is absolutely no reflection on a prospective juror. It does not mean the lawyer or the court believes you are not qualified to sit on the case. It merely means that for this particular case a lawyer for one of the sides, or the judge, believes you may not be well suited. You could well be selected as a juror in the next case before the court.
After the whole jury panel has been selected, you will all be asked to stand, raise your right hands and have the following oath administered:
"Do you solemnly swear that you will consider all the evidence in this case, follow the instructions given to you, deliberate fairly and impartially and reach a fair verdict? So help you God."
You answer, "I do." If you do not care to invoke the name of God in the oath, you may "affirm" instead of "swear" and may substitute for "So help you God" the phrase:
"Under the pains and penalties of perjury."
Your basic job is to pay attention. If you have trouble hearing or seeing, let the judge know. When in the jury box, you will not be allowed to read, talk to other jurors, or otherwise divert your attention from courtroom proceedings. Generally, be alert and courteous, and remain impartial.
All of the exhibits received in evidence will be given to you at the end of the trial. Some of the exhibits may also be read or shown to you during the trial.
At the end of every case, both civil and criminal, the judge gives the jury instructions. These instructions are intended to tell the jury what its choices are and to clarify the decisions it must make (some judges give part of the instructions at the beginning of a case).
If you cannot agree on what a witness may have said and it is important, the judge may reconvene the parties and allow the testimony to be read to you by the court reporter. If any juror needs some matter clarified, a note can be sent to the judge through the bailiff.