A Juror’s Guide to Jury Duty in Beaver County
 

 Introduction

 

We are most pleased to welcome you as you prepare for jury service in the Court of Common Pleas of Beaver County. We want your stay to be as pleasant and as rewarding as possible. This information has been prepared to provide you with information to better equip you to fulfill your obligations as a juror.

The word “obligations” was purposely used in the previous sentence, because each one of us, as citizens of this county, this state and this country, do have an obligation to assure the continuation of the freedoms that we all enjoy.

Both the Constitutions of the United States and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania guarantee each one of us the “right” to a trial by jury when certain of our legal interests and personal liberties are challenged. Because we are guaranteed that “right,” we also are charged with the “obligation” to do our part to provide for our system of justice to continue. Just as the rights we all enjoy apply to every one of us, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or economic status, so, too, does our obligation to serve as jurors. Hopefully, all citizens should be proud and honored to serve.

The Courts do certainly recognize that, even though jurors may be proud and honored to serve, services as a juror is a burden, because the time you given is time taken away from your personal lives and is, at the very least, an interruption of your business and personal lives. Your valuable time and talents are appreciated by the Courts, the entire legal community and by your fellow citizens whose legal interests and liberties are at issue.

Jury service, while a responsibility of each of us, should also be viewed by you as your opportunity to view first hand and participate in the American system of justice, and also, hopefully, to assist each of us in the Court system to make improvements to the operation of justice in our county.

The Court and the entire legal community wish to thank you for your service as a juror. We want to make your service as interesting and rewarding as possible, and we look forward to hearing from you after your service to improve our methods and treatment of those citizens who come after you to serve in this most important capacity.

 

 Purpose of the Juror’s Guide

 
​Because most citizens do not participate in or even think a great deal about how a trial takes place, this guide has been prepared to help you focus on your place within the system. It is also intended to correct or clarify misconceptions that may have been created by exposure to movies, television programming, media accounts or shared experiences from friends and family.

You first must appreciate that the jury is an arm or a branch of the Court – the purpose of which is to listen to and give consideration to the testimony and evidence presented in the trial, to find the facts, the truth, in the evidence and to apply the law as provided by the trial judge to those facts in determining the outcome of the case.

This is an awesome responsibility, but we do not require any particular skills, expertise or education level of our jurors; in fact, just the opposite is true – we strive to offer to litigants, or parties before the Court, the opportunity to select a jury which represents all cross-sections of our community. Remember, the jury’s task is to make a determination of the truth, and all of our citizens are equipped with the ability to undertake that responsibility.

This guide is intended to provide you with general information concerning your experiences as a juror. We do not intend that this guide to provide you with specific information about past or future trials, nor is this guide meant to replace the personal orientation you will attend with a judge, the Court Administrator and other Court personnel.

Finally, and most important to your specific service on a jury, it is not meant to replace the instructions you will receive from the judge presiding over your case at the beginning, during and at the end of the trial. Consider the information in this guide as supplemental to all information you receive at the Courthouse and during the trial of a case.
 

 Exemptions from Jury Duty

 

The law in Pennsylvania states that no one shall be exempt or excused from jury duty except

  1. Persons in active service of the Armed Forces of the United States or of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania;
     
  2. Persons who have served on jury duty within three (3) years preceding their current summons for jury duty; however, if the person served as a juror for fewer than three (3) days in one (1) year, the exemption period is reduced to one (1) year;
     
  3. Persons demonstrating to the Court undue hardship or extreme inconvenience may be excused permanently or for such period as the Court determines is necessary.
     
  4. Spouses, children, siblings, parents, grandparents and grandchildren of victims of criminal homicide under 18 Pa. C.S. 2501.
     
  5. Persons who have previously served for a term of 18 months on a statewide investigating grand jury who opt not to serve.
     
  6. Persons 75 years of age or older who request to be excused.
     
  7. Judges and magisterial district judges of the Commonwealth and judges of the United States.
     
  8. Breastfeeding women who request to be excused
     

If you believe you fit into one of these 8 categories, it will be necessary for you to write and mail your request to the court to be excused permanently or temporarily. Your written request must be received by and approved by the Court prior to the date you are scheduled to come to the Courthouse, or it will be necessary for you to appear in person on the date and time scheduled.

 

 After Receiving a Summons to Appear

 

The Court of Common Pleas of Beaver County has now adopted a juror policy known as “One Day, One Trial.” This means, that in all regular situations, you will only have to serve one day of jury duty or for the duration of one trial if selected to serve on a jury hearing a case.

When you are summoned to appear for jury duty, you will receive written instructions advising you when and how to call the Court’s Voice Response System. This is an automated system that will give you very specific instructions by phone. (The system is designed to be used when you call from a touch-tone telephone, however, if you do not have access to a touch-tone telephone, you will be provided written instructions to follow with your Summons to Appear.)

The Court has employed the use of the Voice Response System, not for the benefit of the Court through savings of time or money, but, rather to better use the valuable time of the jurors who make the entire system function as it should.

In addition to the instructions to use the Voice Response System, your Summons will also include a questionnaire. It is very important that each summoned juror read in detail the instructions contained at the top of the Summons and answer all questions in writing. The Summons must be signed, dated and mailed in by you to the Courthouse before you are directed to appear for jury duty.

Also note, before filling out the questionnaire, you should read the information and Guidelines printed on the reverse side of the Summons. This will provide you with information to assist you in filling out the form. Please remember – the completed form must be mailed in by you in the self-addressed, stamped envelope provided before you report for duty.

 

 Reporting for Duty

 

As noted, the Voice Response System will provide you with instructions as to when and if you are required to appear for duty. If you are directed to report for duty, you are required to bring a photo I.D. with you, as you will be requested to prove your identity.

You should also allow yourself sufficient time. Free parking is provided in the parking garage next to the Courthouse, in non-reserved parking spaces adjacent to the Courthouse and in on-street parking spaces. You should also be forewarned that if choose to park at a metered parking space, you must deposit sufficient money to avoid getting a ticket, or be prepared to pay for the ticket yourself.

When you arrive at the Courthouse, you should report to the Juror’s Lounge located on the second floor of the Courthouse. Handicapped access is available and is marked for your convenience. You are further advised that the Courthouse has a “no smoking” policy and a “no weapons” policy which are enforced.

Proper attire or dress is required for Court. As a suggestion, you should dress comfortably and in a manner you would present yourself when going to an important job interview. Shorts, t-shirts, tank tops and sports clothing are never considered appropriate dress.

Upon reporting to the Juror’s Lounge, you will be registered in, and you will be given a badge to wear on the outside of your clothing at chest height. You will be required to wear your badge at all times when you are in the Courthouse.

After you are registered and receive your badge, you will be seated with all other jurors in the lounge, where you will meet some of your elected and appointed County government officials, you will be administered an oath to faithfully perform your duties and a short orientation will be performed.

The Commissioners of Beaver County and the Court of Common Pleas of Beaver County have attempted to equip the Juror’s Lounge with comfortable seating, facilities and forms of entertainment to occupy your precious time prior to the time your are randomly selected to go as a jury panel to a Courtroom for the selection of jurors.

Please feel free to bring a book, magazine or other form of entertainment if you desire, keeping in mind that you may be in the Lounge with up to 125 other jurors, and their peace of mind and security are as important as your own. Do not bring equipment or materials that others may find offensive. (Suggestion: Laptop computers, cell phones and other electronic devices are not permitted in the Courtrooms; therefore, you may want to leave them at home.)

Finally, should you have a need for anything while you are with us, please feeling free to ask the Court staff, which will be available for your needs during your entire stay in the Courthouse.

Please understand that it is necessary that Court personnel maintain the Jury panel in the Juror’s Lounge until prospective jurors are actually called to a Courtroom for jury selection. The reason this is required is to avoid contact of any nature between prospective jurors and litigants, witnesses and attorneys who will be involved in cases to be heard.

The only time you will be permitted to leave the area of the Juror’s Lounge is during the lunch hour. This usually extends from approximately 12:00 noon to approximately 1:30 p.m. Court personnel will provide you with more exact times on the day of your service. There are vending machines on the first floor of the Courthouse; restaurants are located along the main street (Third Street) of Beaver within walking distance, and some jurors (especially those with special dietary requirements) bring their own lunch with them. However, you should be aware that if you bring your own lunch, no refrigeration is available for juror’s lunches. Coffee, tea and water are provided in the Juror’s Lounge.

 

 Types of Cases Heard by Jurors

 

Jurors hear and decide either civil cases or criminal cases.

A civil case is one in which one or more individual(s) files suit against other individual(s), company or government body. The party filing the suit is often referred to as the Plaintiff, and the party defending the suit is referred to as the Defendant.

The Plaintiff is usually pursuing the suit on the basis of a contract or agreement, or on the basis that the defendant has been negligent in some manner, and the plaintiff claims money damages as a result of the contract or the defendant’s conduct.

In a civil case, the jury is called upon to determine whether or not the plaintiff is entitled to monetary damages from the defendant, and, if so, what the appropriate amount of monetary damages is.

In a criminal case, the Beaver County District Attorney, or sometimes the Pennsylvania Attorney General, through one or more of their assistants, prosecute a case against an individual(s) or company(ies) that are accused of one or more crimes.

The District Attorney or the Attorney General who is bringing the charges is referred to as the prosecutor. The person(s) or company(ies) charges with the crime(s) is called the Defendant.

In a criminal case, the jury is called upon to determine whether or not the prosecutor has proven the defendant guilty of one or more crimes. Except for cases involving first degree murder, jurors are not requested to fix punishment.

 

 Jury Selection

 

The total number of people summoned to appear on a given day is known as the “jury pool.” From the “jury pool,” a “panel” is then sent to a Courtroom for the selection process. The purpose of the selection process is to arrive at a final jury consisting of 12 people who will be fair and impartial while deciding the facts as derived from the evidence presented and applying the law as instructed by the judge. Alternate jurors, (usually 2, but can be more if required by the judge) may also be chosen to avoid having to delay or stop a trial in the event that one of the original 12 jurors becomes unavailable, for any reason, to complete the trial.

 

 Voir Dire

 

Voir Dire is a French term that is literally defined as “to speak the truth.” During the selection process, the randomly selected jurors who are brought to the Courtroom (the “panel”) will be questioned by the judge and / or the attorneys involved in the case to be heard. The reason the judge and / or attorneys ask the questions is so that a fair and impartial jury of 12 people can be selected. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that all members of the jury panel “speak the truth” when answering all questions.

The final 12 members of the jury, plus required alternates, are arrived at by the attorneys exercising challenges for cause or peremptory (not requiring any cause be shown) challenges. Members of the jury panel should not concern themselves with the results of this process – nothing personal is intended or should be inferred – it is merely the process employed to provide the ability of the parties in any given case to ultimately determine the 12 people who will be called upon to decide the case.

 

 The Role of the Juror

 

Listen carefully to all evidence presented during the trial.

During deliberations, discuss the evidence with fellow jurors and decide what the facts are, based upon which witnesses and evidence you believe.

  • Apply the law, as explained by the judge, to the facts, as determined by you.
  • Do no independent research or investigation.
  • Determine the money damages in some civil cases.
  • In criminal cases, decide whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.
  • Arrive at a verdict.
     
 

 The Role of the Judge

 
  • Make sure that all parties have a fair opportunity to present their case.
  • Make sure the trial process proceeds in a proper manner.
  • Instruct the jury on the applicable law.
  • Decide the punishment in most criminal cases.
     
 

 The Trial Process

 
  • The jury is selected by the attorneys for both parties.
  • The Jury is sworn in.
  • The Jury receives opening instructions by the trial judge.
  • Opening Statements are presented by the Attorneys.
  • Evidence is presented.
  • Closing Arguments are conducted by attorneys for each party.
  • The trial judge charges or instructs the jury on the applicable law.
  • The jury deliberates.
  • The jury reaches and renders its verdict.
  • The jury is dismissed by the Court.
     
 

 Jury Deliberations

 

The judge explains the law relevant to the case and provides guidance on procedures to be followed in jury deliberations. One of the first things the jury does during deliberations is to choose a foreperson. The foreperson should make sure each juror has a chance to speak; that each juror’s opinion is treated with respect; that the jury does not rush to come to a verdict; that jurors carefully listen to one another; and that they return a fair and impartial verdict based upon the facts of the case.

In criminal cases, the jury’s verdict must be unanimous. In civil cases, 5/6 of the jurors must be in agreement to return a verdict.

 

 After the Jury Reaches a Verdict

 

Once a jury reaches a verdict, the foreperson informs the Court that the jury has reached a verdict, and the judge calls everyone back to the Courtroom. The verdict will then be announced by the foreperson. After the verdict is announced and recorded, the jury has completed its duties and is discharged.

After discharge, jurors are permitted, but not required to talk about the case. Jurors are not permitted, however, to disclose what another juror said in the jury room. If anyone attempts to communicate with a juror regarding his or her role as juror in a way that one feels is improper, the juror should report the incident to the Court as soon as possible.

 

 Frequently Asked Questions

 

What happens if I ignore my Summons for jury service?

A Jury Summons is a Court Order. If you ignore it, you are subject to arrest and prosecution.
 

May I schedule a more convenient time to serve?

In many cases, the Court will do what it can to accommodate you. You must write to the Court and find out. Don’t simply ignore the Summons.
 

Will I be paid for serving as a juror?

Yes, $9.00 per day for the first three days and $25.00 per day thereafter, and mileage for transportation to and from the Courthouse. These fees are set by the State Legislature.
 

What if my employer doesn’t allow me to serve?

The law prohibits any employer from preventing an employee to serve as a juror. The law also prohibits an employer from depriving a juror of benefits because of jury service, such as requiring you to use vacation time to serve.
 

Is my employer required to pay me while I serve as a juror?

If you work for the government, your employer must pay you. If you work in the private sector, your employer does not have to pay you.
 

Is it possible to appear for jury service and not sit on a jury?

Yes. More people are called than actually serve, because it is not always possible to estimate accurately the number of jurors who will be needed to serve each day.
 

How long does the average trial take?

Criminal trials do not usually last longer than two to three days. Generally, civil trials do not last longer than three to four days. However, some trials may last longer.
 

May I go home at the end of the day?

Jurors almost always go home at the end of the day. Sequestration is a term used to describe jurors staying at a local hotel at the County’s expense during the trial. Sequestration occurs rarely.
 

Are accommodates available if I have a disability?

Accommodations are available to people with disabilities. Call the Jury Commissioners’ Office at (724) 770-4620 to find out what accommodations are available in Beaver County.
 
 

 Conclusion

 

While jury service may sometimes be inconvenient, it is an extremely important civic duty. Without citizens willing to serve as jurors, our system of justice would not exist. Most jurors find the experience to be educational and rewarding.

This information has been prepared to help you better understand the Court of Common Pleas of Beaver County, to inform you about what to expect when serving as a juror and to emphasize the critical role you serve in our justice system. It is not to be considered a substitute for the instructions provided to you by the judge in any trial in which you might actually serve as a juror.
 

Additional Information

For more information about Jury Service in Beaver County, call the Jury Commissioners’ Office at (724) 770-4620.