Friday, March 19, 2010

jury duty - the choosing (of jurors)

Empanelling is the way jurors are chosen to serve on a particular trial.

The selection of jurors is a multi-step random process. It is impossible to tell which jury you will be on...

The empanelling process is as follows:
  1. Cards showing the name, town/suburb and occupation of each juror are placed in a rotating box to mix them.
  2. The judge’s associate will remove the cards one by one and call the juror’s number and name.
  3. If you are called, walk to the bailiff to swear an oath or to affirm to fulfil your duty as a juror
  4. If you wish to affirm, or have a specific religious oath, alert the bailiff before entering the court.
  5. At any time before the bailiff begins to recite the oath or affirmation, the prosecutor may call out "stand by", or the defence counsel may call out "challenge".
  6. If this happens, you must return to the back of the court and another name will be called.
  7. If you are not "stood by" or "challenged" you will be sworn in as a juror and directed to your place in the jury box.
This procedure will be repeated with the names of those remaining until a complete jury is formed.

If you are “stood by” or “challenged” it is no reflection on your character or ability.

If you are not chosen to serve on a jury during your first empanelling process, you may need to go through the process again if another jury is required.
i heard that there are books written on the science of jury selection, though this may be more pertinent in an american context (see for example jury research and scientific jury selection). in any case i was rather unexpected to hear my name called out first, and so, not having the benefit of observing other people go through the process before me, walked to the front of the court thinking "i can't remember what i'm supposed to do/say!"

as i walked, i kept waiting to hear the call of "stand by" or "challenge", but this never came. then it was time to swear my oath, and got the response wrong... i was supposed to answer "so help me God", but forgot and answered "i do", cos all i could remember was that the statement/question started with "do you...", even though there was a "... so help you God?" at the end.

and so juror #1 was chosen. as the rest of the jury formed, the defence used up their quota of challenges, while the prosecution used none - i wondered if this was a sign of their confidence (or significant lack of) in their case that they felt it really didn't matter who/what sort of people were on the jury. a number of men were challenged, and the final jury gender ratio stood at 8-4 in favour of women. two reserves were also selected, i suppose because this was expected to be a longer trial - if anything happens to prevent one of the original 12 from being able to complete the trial, a reserve would stand in their place.

finally, once the jury was formed and the prosecution listed the names of the accused and the prosecution witnesses, the judge asked if any member of the jury had problems with being able to serve (eg because we know the accused or a witness). one lady asked to be excused, stating that she had strong views about drug trafficking, and was subsequently replaced by a new juror (not one of the existing reserves).

next up: more about the trial itself.

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