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?
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 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?
- An 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;
- Not have been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year.
- Jury selection begins when a name is randomly selected from a master list of prospective jurors in the county,
- The list is 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 summons will contain information about jury service and will have instructions on how to respond.
- Always respond to a jury summons even if you think you are exempt from service. Ignoring a summons may result in fines or imprisonment for contempt of court.
- 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 (12) jurors, except in the rare case of the parties agreeing to fewer.
- In civil cases, the jury can consist of as few as six (6) jurors or as many as twelve (12).
- In Philadelphia, an indicting grand jury is made up of 23 people who sit as a body and hear testimony from people who are summoned to appear before it.
- 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
- Many counties have an online juror portal where you can fill out questionnaires or summons online, rather than send them through traditional mail.Check your summons for information on whether your county provides this service.
- Jurors may also use the system to change personal information, select a different time to serve, or request to be excused from service. The Philadelphia service portal may be accessed here.
- Online juror portals require 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.
- Do not ignore your summons!
- 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.
- Serving on a jury is an awesome responsibility and is one of the only opportunities citizens have to participate directly in government. Unlike voting, jury service is mandatory. 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.
- 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 the REMARKS section of your questionnaire, you may state the reason you are unable to attend on your appointed date and then provide a date when you can.
- Only if your questionnanaire has been completed and returned, can you request a postponement.
- Requests for postponements can be made online in many counties after completing the questionnaire. Jurors may generally select a new date of their choice, although there are some limitations.
- Includes: medical or physical hardship, loss of job wages, childcare issues, and care giver for an ill parent.
- If any of the above is present, some form of verification must accompany the questionnaire.
- Requests for jury service exemption for hardship cannot be made online and must be made by mail.
In Pennsylvania, no one is excused or exempt from jury duty except those who (42 Pa. C.S. § 4503):
- Are in active service of the Armed Forces;
- Have served on jury duty within three years of one's 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.
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. If you fail to appear, you can be held in contempt of court.
- Any juror who fails to appear when summoned may be fined up to $500 and/or imprisoned for up to 10 days, or both. 42 Pa. C.S. § 4584.
- As of April of 2014, the Philadelphia court system will reinstitute the ‘Scofflaw Court’ for jurors who fail to appear when summoned.
42 Pa. C.S. § 4584
- If you served on a jury trial that lasted less than three days, you are exempt from service for one year.
- If you served on a jury trial that lasted three days or longer, you are exempt from service for three years.
- If you reported for jury duty, but were not seated on a jury, many counties, such as Philadelphia, exempt you from service for a year.
THE TRIAL PROCESS
Jurors hear either criminal or civil cases.
- Criminal cases: A district attorney/prosecutor acting on behalf of the citizens of Pennsylvania prosecutes a case against an individual or an entity accused of a crime. The person or entity accused of the crime is the "defendant".
- Civil cases: A person, entity (such as a business or organization) or governmental agency brings a lawsuit against another individual, entity or governmental agency. The party initiating the lawsuit is the plaintiff, and the party defending the suit is the defendant.
Generally, you only have to serve one day or the length of the trial.
- 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.
- Some counties require jurors to show up for several days in a row. Check your summons to find out.
- If you are selected to serve on a jury, your service will last until the trial ends.
- Most criminal trials last about 2-3 days.
- Most civil trials last about 3-4 days.
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 Day Before
- Read your summons.
- Make sure you have the right date, time, and location.
- Many counties allow you to call the day before you are scheduled to serve to see if you need to report for service. Check your summons to see if this is available in your county.
- Check to see if your county has a telephone or web-based information line which jurors may access up to date information on juror needs.
- Be sure to have your nine-digit ID number available.
- For reporting instructions and further questions check with your local jury services office.
- If you are sick or have an emergency, call the court directly and inform them of your situation. Do not simply fail to appear as you may be subject to penalties.
- Wear comfortable business casual clothing that reflects respect for the court.
- Bring a snack in case you get hungry while waiting.
- 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.
- In most counties, you may bring your laptop, iPod, tablet computer, and your cellular telephone to the jury assembly room.
- However, all electronic devices must be turned off in the courtrooms unless otherwise instructed by court staff.
- Get there early so that you give yourself ample time to go through the security check.
- Follow the signs to the Jury Assembly Room. This is where you will stay until you're called for a jury.
- You will be asked to view an orientation video and complete a questionnaire before being assigned a badge/juror number.
- Most jurors likely will spend some time waiting to be placed on a jury panel to be called before a judge and lawyers for voir dire. This may be frustrating, but when you are waiting please remember that if you were involved in a trial, you would want the court and the lawyers to take their time picking a good jury, so be patient.
- Voir dire refers to the preliminary questioning of members of the jury pool to determine their qualifications to serve on a jury.
- Either the judge or the lawyers may ask you questions. The purpose of these questions is to determine whether you, as a prospective juror, hold any views that may impair your ability to act impartially.
- Be truthful, honest and complete in your answers, but do not exaggerate. If you believe that you could not be fair and impartial to both sides, say so.
- The judge presiding over the trial will give you instructions about your responsibilities at the start of the trial.
- Depending on how long the trial is expected to last, jurors may be permitted to take notes.If you are allowed to take notes, the judge will give you special instructions.
- If the trial is expected to take more than 2 days, jurors are always allowed to take notes.
- If the trial is expected to be shorter than 2 days, the judge can decide to permit jurors to take notes.
- Outside research by jurors is never permitted. The judge will give you more instructions about what this means, but generally you are not allowed to look at news sources, ask questions of people, get information from social media, visit places involved in the trial or conduct any kind of investigation.
- You will be asked to listen to opening statements, the presentation of evidence and testimony, and closing statements from both sides.
- After closing statements, the judge will give you jury instructions. These are the set of legal rules the jury has to follow in reaching its verdict.
- Now it's time to make your decision.
- In the deliberation room, you should talk about the evidence and issues that were brought out during trial.
- Make sure you follow the jury instructions. In some cases you will be given a list of questions you must answer.
- If the jury has questions on the law, or would like to look at evidence, the judge will provide you with instructions on how to do that.
- Contact the court in the county in which you live.
- 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.
COMPENSATION FOR SERVICE; GETTING TIME OFF WORK; AND MISCELLANEOUS ISSUES
Yes. 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. Jurors also receive reimbursement for miles traveled (except in Philadelphia). 42 Pa. C.S. § 4561(a).
No. Pennsylvania employers are not required to pay 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.
Your employer may not fire or demote you, nor can they deprive you of seniority or other benefits because you 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.
- Generally no. In most counties, childcare is not provided, but a few 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.