By Katherine Cabaniss
Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in The Examiner News and is republished with permission. Find resources for jurors at texasbar.com.
Recently, a high-profile case was tried in my court. A jury heard evidence for more than two weeks. The media was highly interested and consistently present. The courtroom was packed.
In the case, 12 citizens and two alternates had a front-row seat to watch the court proceedings in person. Each of these persons had appeared at jury duty. They were selected through the voir dire process to sit as jurors and hear the case.
Many, many people tuned in to the evening news to find out the latest information about the case. However, the jurors were there to hear everything live and in person.
Have you received a summons to jury duty lately? You never know what kind of case you might get to hear!
“Jury duty” is any citizen’s chance to participate in the legal system by sitting on a jury and hearing a case. For many, the receipt of a summons brings a sigh of exasperation. It is not always convenient to interrupt our daily lives to appear for jury duty.
However, it is critically important. Few recognize the value of their jury service. Without jurors, our justice system will slow to a standstill. Our foundation of justice depends upon the volunteer time of citizens to serve on a jury.
Under our statutes, you are eligible to participate on a jury as follows:
- A citizen of the United States and of Texas;
- At least 18 years old;
- A resident of the county in which you were summoned;
- Able to read and write; and
- Of sound mind.
Still not sure? Consider whether you fall into a category that may be excused from jury service, including:
- Over 70 years old;
- Legal custody of a child under 12 years old;
- A student in class;
- A caretaker of an invalid person;
- An impairment or inability to communicate in English;
- A member of the military deployed abroad.
Potential jurors are selected from lists of the voter registration, DPS driver’s license, or identification card numbers. If you are registered to vote or have a license to drive, you could be called for jury duty at any time.
Jury duty is a cornerstone of our legal system. The right to a fair trial with an impartial jury is paramount. But, for the system to work, citizens must participate.
After the verdict in every jury trial in our court, I speak with the jurors. In almost every case, jurors express that their service was rewarding. Equally often, the jurors say that they enjoyed their service.
Regarding the importance of jury service, the Harris County website says, “Justice ultimately depends to a large measure upon the quality of jurors who serve in our courts.”
Your participation in jury service is invaluable. Respond to your summons, and encourage your friends to do the same. Your participation will have lasting impact on the community, the legal system, and justice.
Besides, who wouldn’t want to have a front-row seat for all the courtroom action?
Judge Katherine Cabaniss of the 248th District Court in Houston is a former prosecutor and a former executive director of Crime Stoppers of Houston. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.