When the constitutions were framed for both the United States and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a trial by jury was considered an essential element. Jury trials help protect the innocent and convict the guilty. Serving on a jury is both a privilege and a responsibility. If you have received a summons for jury duty, there are certain facts that you need to know.
Grand Jury or Trial Jury
Your summons may be for either a trial jury or a grand jury. Trial juries consist of panels of either six jurors in District Court or 12 jurors in Superior Court and one or two alternates. Alternates attend the trial proceedings, and should a juror become ill or otherwise need to be excused, an alternate may take his or her place on the panel. An alternate juror is not selected until the end of the trial and is randomly selected. If you are summoned as a trial juror, you will serve either one day, if you are not selected, or the duration of the trial if you are chosen.
Grand Jury Service in Massachusetts
If you are chosen for a grand jury, you will be one of 23 jurors who hear the evidence against a suspect to determine whether it is sufficient to indict. Grand juries do not determine whether the accused is innocent or guilty; it merely decides whether the evidence is valid enough to initial a trial. If you are not selected to serve on the grand jury panel on the first day, your service is complete. If you are selected, you will serve a three-month term. However, this is not necessarily three consecutive months. Most panels report to the courthouse between one and three days per week during the three-month term. If the panel has unfinished business at the end of the term, members may find their terms extended to complete these deliberations.
Your summons will state whether you have been called for a trial or grand jury. Regardless of the type of service, you must return the confirmation that is included with your summons. You must also be sure to report to the proper place on stated date and time. If you fail to comply, you could have a warrant issued for your arrest.
How Are You Selected For Jury Duty
You should also understand that your name was selected at random from a list of all residents of legal age in your town or city. Massachusetts does not select jurors from voter registration rolls, so refusing to register to vote does not eliminate the potential to be summoned for jury duty. Neither does refusing to secure a Massachusetts driver’s license.
You are not required to serve on a jury more than once every three years. Massachusetts jurors must be U.S. citizens, 18 years of age or older, capable of understanding and speaking English, and a resident of the county issuing the summons. Residents over the age of 70 can serve, but they are not required to do so. Anyone convicted of a felony within the seven years predating the summons or who is currently under indictment or in custody cannot be a juror. Jurors must be mentally and physically capable of serving. You may also be able to secure a hardship exemption if you qualify. Click here for a complete list of exemptions and how to apply for them.
About the Author
Massachusetts Criminal Attorney Patrick Donovan is a former Massachusetts prosecutor that has tried many jury trials. Attorney Donovan focuses his practice on criminal defense and has represented people charged with felony and misdemeanor crimes in Massachusetts. Attorney Donovan has appeared in over fifty courts in Massachusetts.