PMC, in coordination with the Pennsylvania Bar Association, has prepared a Juror's Guide to provide information about this important civic duty. The Juror's Guide offers basic information about the jury selection process and about how the courtroom operates. We hope jurors and potential jurors will find the Guide helpful.
Below are some frequently asked questions about jury duty in Pennsylvania. These answers are intended as a general guide. PMC advises that you contact the court in the county in which you were summoned as certain policies may vary by court or may change with time.
What are the requirements to serve as a juror?
How are jurors selected?
Can I fill out my juror questionnaire or respond to my summons online?
What if I am unable to serve on the day I was called?
How do I get out of jury duty?
Are certain individuals exempt from jury service?
What happens if I ignore my summons?
How often do I have to serve?
What kind of trials do jurors hear?
How long will I have to serve?
Will I be sequestered?
What should I expect when I report for jury duty?
What should I bring with me to jury duty?
Can I bring my cell phone, laptop, or other electronic device into the courthouse?
Can I bring food?
What should I wear?
Who do I contact if I have more questions?
What if I am sick or have an emergency on the day I am required to serve?
Will I be able to take notes if I am selected to serve?
Will I get paid for reporting to jury duty?
Does my employer have to pay me while I serve on jury duty?
Does the court provide childcare?
Definitions of Key Terms
WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS TO SERVE AS A JUROR?
To serve as a juror, one must be: a United States citizen and a resident of the county in which you are summoned; at least 18 years old; able to read, write and speak English; and must not have been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year. Individuals age 70 or older are not required to serve, but they may serve if they wish.
Jury selection begins when a name is randomly selected from a master list of prospective jurors in the county, compiled from various sources, including voter and motor vehicle registration lists, personal tax rolls and other sources. Those randomly selected citizens are sent a summons, which is a court order stating the required time and place to appear.
The jury pool is composed of those people summoned to appear on a particular day. Juries are selected from the jury pool. In criminal cases, the jury is made up of twelve jurors, except in the rare case of the parties agreeing to fewer. In civil cases, the jury can consist of as few as six jurors or as many as twelve. Alternate jurors may also be chosen to avoid unnecessary delays or expense in the event of the incapacity of a juror.
RESPONDING TO A SUMMONS FOR JURY DUTY
If you are summoned for duty in Philadelphia, you can use the Philadelphia Courts eJUROR system, which enables potential jurors to fill out questionnaires or summons online, rather than send them through traditional mail. Jurors may also use the system to alter personal information, select a different time to serve, or request to be excused from service. The service portal may be accessed here. It requires the nine digit juror Participant Number, the first three letters of the juror’s last name, and the juror’s date of birth to begin.
In most cases, the court will do what it can to accommodate you and will often permit you to postpone the date. Read your summons to determine the court’s policies for rearranging the date or call the court directly. Do not ignore your summons.
Serving on a jury is an awesome responsibility and is one of the only opportunities citizens have to participate directly in our process of governance. And, unlike voting, it is mandatory, not discretionary. PMC urges all citizens to respond to summons for jury duty and to put forth their best effort to serve when called. PMC recognizes, as do the courts, that jury duty imposes a heavy burden on many citizens. However, those who fulfill their civic duty will find that they are appreciated by the court system and often report that serving was a positive and educational experience.
The jury system is the foundation of our system of justice. If we as citizens do not assume the mantle of responsibility, we cannot ensure that fair juries will be found to decide the cases in which we may be involved. Remember, you would want a fair, unbiased jury to decide your case. The only way to achieve that is to commit to serve when called for jury duty.
However, courts do understand that there may be substantial and legitimate reasons that inhibit your ability to serve, and they have developed procedures to ease the burdens of service.
In Pennsylvania, no one is excused or exempt from jury duty except those who:
- Are in active service of the Armed Forces;
- Have served on jury duty within three years of their current summons. However, if such person served as a juror for fewer than three days, the exemption period is only one year; OR
- Demonstrate to the court undue hardship or extreme inconvenience. You will be excused permanently or the length of time the court deems necessary.
42 Pa. C.S. § 4503.
If you satisfy one of these conditions and wish to seek an exemption from jury duty you must mail a written request to the court. This request must be received and approved prior to the date you are scheduled to serve. Do not simply ignore your summons.
A juror summons is a court order. Any juror who fails to appear when summoned may be fined and/or imprisoned for contempt of court. 42 Pa. C.S. § 4584.
How often do I have to serve?
Following jury service, a citizen shall be exempt from jury duty for 3 years provided s/he served at least 3 days. Those who served for fewer than 3 days results in an exemption for one year. 42 Pa. C.S. § 4584.
THE TRIAL PROCESS
Jurors hear either criminal or civil cases. In criminal cases, a district attorney acting on behalf of the citizens of Pennsylvania prosecutes a case against an individual or an entity accused of a crime. The district attorney is also referred to as the prosecutor. The person or entity accused of the crime is referred to as the defendant.
In civil cases, an individual, entity or governmental agency brings a suit against
another individual, entity or governmental agency. The party initiating the lawsuit is referred to as the plaintiff, and the party defending the suit is the defendant.
Most counties in Pennsylvania follow the one day/one trial rule, which means you show up and if you are not selected to serve on a jury, your service ends that day. If you are selected to serve on a jury, your service will last the length of the trial for which you have been selected. Other counties require jurors to show up for several days in a row.
Typically, you will only have to serve one day. Many people who show up for jury duty will not actually be selected to serve on a jury that hears a trial. If you are selected, you must serve for the course of the trial. Most criminal trials last no longer than two to three days, while most civil trials last no more than three to four days. Some trials may last longer.
Sequestration is a term used to describe jurors staying at a local hotel at the county’s expense during the trial. Sequestration occurs rarely.
THE DAY OF SERVICE
The majority of people called for jury duty on any given day will not actually serve. Counties must summon more jurors then will actually be used because it is difficult to predict precisely how many jurors will be needed on a given day. However, counties are working to decrease the number of excess jurors they call in each day, and are instituting procedures to foster virtually up-to-the minute counting of how many jurors are needed. These counties often use telephone or web-based information lines which jurors may access the night before their scheduled service to see if their service is still required. Check on your summons or with your local jury services office to determine the procedures in place in your county.
In any event, most jurors likely will spend some time waiting to be called before a judge and lawyers for voir dire (i.e. questioning of the jury panel). This may be frustrating, but when you are waiting to be called or questioned, please remember that if you were to be involved in a trial, whether civil or criminal, you would probably want the court and the lawyers to take their time picking a good jury, so be patient. This is the time to pull out a book or project, socialize with your fellow citizens, or just relax.
You will be called in groups or “panels” to be questioned by the judge and/or lawyers involved in a particular case. Listen to the questions and answer as honestly and fully as possible. Your answers will help the lawyers decide whether to select you to serve on their case. Do not be insulted if you are not chosen; jury duty selection is not a science.
If you are selected to serve on a jury, the judge presiding over the trial likely will give you instructions about your responsibilities at the start of the trial. These instructions probably will include prohibitions against discussing the trial or its proceedings until the trial ends and deliberations begin and against conversations with the judge, the lawyers or any parties. Follow the judge’s instructions – they are designed to ensure that the trial proceeds efficiently and without error.
The judge also is likely to provide some guidelines about the role of jurors during the trial. As the judge will surely instruct the jury, you need to pay attention to all of the witness testimony and evidence offered during the trial. This includes evaluating for yourself which witnesses were credible or trustworthy.
Following testimony and presentation of evidence, the judge will instruct the jury about the law that governs the case. The judge’s instructions will guide the jury in making its decision.
We recommend that you bring some reading material or a small project (needle point, knitting, crossword puzzles, bill paying, letter writing) that you can comfortably carry to keep yourself occupied while you are waiting for the proceedings to begin. You will not be permitted, however, to use any of these items during any proceeding.
Many courthouses will not permit you to bring cellular phones or small electronic devices inside and you may be required to check them with security. You may wish to call the courthouse in advance to check the security policy.
Yes, and you should bring a snack in case you get hungry while waiting.
Most courts recommend that you wear comfortable business casual clothing that reflects respect for the court.
Contact the court in the county in which you reside. Some counties have established websites with information about jury duty or you may call the court directly. PMC has compiled a contact list available here.
Call the court directly and inform them of your situation. Do not simply fail to appear as you may be subject to penalties.
Jurors are permitted to take notes in civil and criminal trials that are expected to last longer than two days. In shorter trials, the judge determines whether to allow jurors to take notes.
If you are selected to serve as a juror in a trial during which notetaking by jurors is permitted, the judge will give you special instructions about notetaking. Remember, jurors are not required to take notes. If notetaking is permitted, it is up to each individual juror to make his or her own decision about whether to take notes. If you do choose to take notes, be sure to follow the judge’s instructions about what to do with your notes during breaks in the trial and about the use of your notes following the trial and during deliberations.
COMPENSATION FOR SERVICE; GETTING TIME OFF WORK; AND MISCELLANEOUS ISSUES
Under Pennsylvania law, jurors receive $9 per day for the first three days they are required to report and $25 per day after the third day. 42 Pa. C.S. § 4561(a).
Pennsylvania employers are not required to compensate employees for time lost to jury duty. However, many private employers, the Commonwealth, and various municipalities, including the City of Philadelphia, do so in recognition of the critical importance of jury service.
In addition, Pennsylvanian employers may not fire or demote employees, nor can they deprive them of seniority or other benefits because they have responded to a jury summons or have served as a juror. 42 Pa. C.S. § 4563. Although this statute exempts certain smaller employers, employees of such employers may be excused from jury service upon request.
In most counties, childcare is not provided. A minority of courts do have childcare facilities for jurors. This information may be available on your juror summons or you may call the court directly to determine whether facilities are available.
A Jury Summons is a court order requiring an individual to attend and be available to serve on a jury on a particular day. It does not mean you have been selected for a jury, simply that you must show up for the selection process. The summons will contain information about jury service and will have instructions on how to respond. Always respond to a jury summons even if you believe you are exempt from service. Ignoring a summons may result in fines or even imprisonment for contempt of court.
Jury Pool: The jury pool is composed of those people summoned to appear on a particular day. Juries are selected from the jury pool. Many members of the jury pool, however, will not be selected to serve on a jury.
Voir Dire: Voir dire is a French term that refers to the preliminary questioning of members of the jury pool to determine their qualifications to serve on a jury. This questioning may be conducted by either the judge or by the lawyers involved in a particular case. The purpose of these questions is to determine whether the prospective juror holds any views that may impair his or her ability to act impartially. It is critical that all potential juror answer these questions with care and honesty.
Sequestering means to keep the jury isolated from contact from the public during the course of a trial. Juries that are sequestered stay at a local hotel at the expense of the county. It is very rare for a judge to order a jury to be sequestered.
Civil Trial: In civil cases, an individual, entity or governmental agency brings a suit against another individual, entity or governmental agency. The party initiating the lawsuit is referred to as the plaintiff, and the party defending the suit is the defendant.
Criminal Trial: In criminal cases, a district attorney acting on behalf of the citizens of Pennsylvania prosecutes a case against an individual or an entity accused of a crime. The district attorney is also referred to as the prosecutor. The person or entity accused of the crime is referred to as the defendant.