Jury Service in Wisconsin
By Ed Vopal, President, Wisconsin Association for Justice
September is Juror Appreciation Month in Wisconsin and its theme is "Jurors Serve Justice; Justice Serves Us All." When you serve on a jury, you help protect our rights and freedoms.
The Wisconsin and U.S. Constitutions guarantee the right to a jury trial. John Adams said, "Representative government and trial by jury are the heart and lungs of liberty."
Like voting, jury service is a direct form of participatory democracy. It is one of the few civic duties required of U.S. citizens, and is part of the foundation of our democratic society.
Unlike the legislative and executive branches of government, jurors are not subject to influence by extraneous considerations beyond the courthouse. The courtroom is a place where any person can take on the most powerful person or corporation to seek justice and accountability.
Judges decide the laws that must be applied in a trial, and jurors are empowered to decide the facts. At the end of every trial, the judge informs the jury "let your verdict speak the truth, whatever the truth may be."
To be chosen for jury service in Wisconsin, a person is selected at random from a variety of public lists of people residing in the area served by the circuit court. Jurors must be 18 years old, a U.S. citizen, and able to understand the English language. Jurors cannot have been convicted of a felony without having their civil rights restored.
Prospective jurors are summoned to their county courthouse, where a judge and the lawyers will ask them questions about their ability to serve. Some people may be excused. A prospective juror must be able to be fair and impartial when hearing and deciding the case. When 12 people (or a lesser number if allowed) are chosen, they are sworn in.
Jurors are called upon to use sound judgment to apply the law given by the judge. In criminal cases, jurors decide the guilt of the accused. In civil cases jurors determine the rights of each party, often including the award of monetary damages to those who have been injured or wronged.
Jurors listen carefully to the evidence and try their very best to answer the verdict questions in a responsible, honest, fair and impartial manner. Jurors bring their collective wisdom and values of the community to bear in their decision-making process.
Throughout history, jurors have played crucial roles in improving public safety when injured citizens brought a civil case. Automobiles, women's health products and children's products - such as pajamas that caught fire easily or unsafe car seats and cribs - have been made considerably safer because of jury verdicts.
Please take the time to thank citizens who serve on Wisconsin juries and also their understanding families and employers. Encourage people to serve on a jury if called. Wisconsin jurors are giving the time, energy and effort to protect our rights, freedoms, and liberties.
I cannot think of a more fitting salute to jurors than Parnell Emmett McCarthy's statement from the movie Anatomy of a Murder:
"Twelve people go off into a room: twelve different minds, twelve different hearts, from twelve different walks of life; twelve sets of eyes, ears, shapes, and sizes. And these twelve people are asked to judge another human being as different from them as they are from each other. And in their judgment, they must become of one mind - unanimous. It's one of the miracles of Man's disorganized soul that they can do it, and in most instances, do it right well. God bless juries."
We respect and appreciate the time and effort it takes to serve on a jury. When you serve, you participate directly in the justice system and help create positive change. Thank you.
WAJ has produced a video, called the People's Law School, on The Jury Trial, which includes a discussion of jury service. It can be viewed on the WAJ website, www.wisjustice.org