Wednesday 23 January 2019


To be qualified to serve on a jury in Canada, you have to be at least 19 years of age, be a Canadian citizen, be a resident of the province you live in and be a resident of the region that you live in. For example, I am  much older than 19, I am a Canadian citizen, I live in the Province of Ontario and also I live in the Region of Peel that is in the Greater Toronto Area. That would make me qualified to serve on a jury.

However, you cannot serve as a juror if you were at any time in the practice of law. Last year, I was received a Jury Certification Form in which I was to  answer the questions and if I wasn’t qualified to serve as a juror, I was to state why and send it to the sheriff in our region. I sent copies of letters from five lawyers who stated that they saw me representing clients in courts. I also wrote that I studied criminal law at the University of Toronto for two years as part of a five year criminology program.

Lawyers representing their clients charged with criminal crimes don’t want anyone sitting as a juror who is  knowledgeable about criminal law since it is the judge who will explain the legal issues to the jury, not a fellow juror. The Superior court judge hearing the case that was to be heard in December 2018 correctly disqualified me from serving as a juror in the Peel Region in which I live in.

There are other citizens who cannot sit as a juror. They are; police officers, lawyers, law students, a trustee in bankruptcy, an employee of the Ministry of Attorney General or a person who has been convicted of certain criminal offences within the last five years. 

 If you are over the age of 65, and live in the province of British Columbia, you can choose whether or not to serve as a juror. If you choose not to serve as a juror, include your date of birth and Medical Services Plan Gold Card number on the Jury Certification Form. If you choose to serve as a juror, complete the form and mail it to the sender and attend the selection process on the date indicated. This policy is applicable in all the Provinces and Territories in Canada. When I told the Jury Clerk in the Sheriff’s office and that I was 85 years of age, she exclaimed, “Why were you even sent the Jury Certification Form?  

In many states in the USA, seniors have the right to decline jury duty based on their age. But the age limits and rules vary by state and by type of court, so if you are summoned for jury duty, check with the court to determine if you are exempt.

The majority of states have a rule in place that allows individuals over a certain age to choose not to serve on a jury if called. How this works varies by state and by the court . Some states allow anyone over a certain age to be permanently exempted; other states allow seniors to be excused from serving if they are called. Some states require notice in writing; other states have a box the senior can check on the jury summons form. The ages at which seniors can be exempted or excused are 65 (Mississippi and South Carolina), 70 (Alabama, Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia), 72 (North Carolina and Wyoming), 75 (Arizona, Indiana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania), and 80 (Hawaii and South Dakota).

Further, if you are disabled and unfit and attending court would be a hardship, you will be exempt.  Last year I was hospitalized after suffering from congested heart failure so I take medicine which reduces the amount of fluid in my body. The downside of taking that medicine is that I have to pee many times in a 24-hour period. In my letter to the sheriff, I said that when I am sitting as a juror during a trial, I don’t want to put my hand up to let the judge know that I have to take a pee. I said that I can envision people in the court asking themselves, “Didn’t he take a pee before he left home?”  The judge decided that problem was a valid reason for me not sitting at a trial as a juror. 

Some states have more complicated rules regarding seniors and jury duty. In Nevada, for example, everyone over age 65 who lives 65 miles or more away from the court is exempted from serving on a jury. Once you reach age 70 in Nevada, you are exempted from serving on a jury no matter where you live. In California, individuals with a permanent health problem can be excused from jury duty, but if you are 70 years or older, you don't need a doctor's verification of the health problem.

Each of the federal district courts has its own rules about jury service. Many federal courts offer excuses from service, on individual request, to designated groups, including people over age 70.

If your work requires you to be at your employment all day, you will be exempted. This would certainly apply if you are a doctor or a nurse.  If you are a full-time student, you will be exempted. I believe that this also applies to priests, ministers and Iman’s etc.

Canada has two official languages. They are English and French. If the trial is to be conducted in French and you don’t understand French or visa versa, then you will be exempt and I imagine this applies to anyone else who isn’t conversant in English or French.

Jury panels are called to provide a pool of potential jurors for upcoming trials. The panel remains active for up to two months. As a member of the panel, you must attend one or two jury selection processes during that period. There can be at least a hundred persons in a panel.

At the jury selection, a jury will be chosen for each trial scheduled for that month. The trial may be a criminal or civil case. On average, fewer than 15 percent of trials are civil cases. The type of trial is indicated on the Summons sent to you. In the summons I was sent, it noted that the trial may last a month.

Jury selection for criminal trials are attended by the person accused of an offence, defence counsel (the lawyer representing the accused), Crown counsel (the lawyer who prosecutes the case), and court staff. Twelve jurors are chosen for each criminal trial.

The clerk of the court begins the selection process by drawing names of panelists from a box at random. If your name is called, answer "here" and move to the front of the court as directed by the sheriff. The clerk will continue drawing names until about 15 or 20 panelists have been called.

The prosecutor or defence counsel are permitted to challenge" each panelist who has been called. A challenge simply means that either lawyer does not want you to serve as a juror in that particular case. If challenged, you will be asked to go back to your seat. Your name will be re-entered in the box, from which names for other juries will be drawn, and you may be called again later for another trial.

If you have ever watched the television series titled BULL, you will get a good idea of the kinds of questions that will be asked of the potential jurors sitting in the juror box.  

For example, suppose the defendant is charged with murdering a baseball pitcher. The defence who gets to ask the questions will first ask, “How many of you have played baseball?” If anyone in the jury box puts up his or hand, the lawyer will thank that person for attending and say that that person is excused from sitting on that particular jury. The reason is obvious since that potential juror would be biased against the defendant.

Both the prosecutor may consent to you serving as a juror on the trial. Once accepted, you will be sworn in or affirmed and then seated in the jury box. If for any reason you feel you cannot serve, tell the sheriff or request to speak to the judge before being sworn in or affirmed.

In some cases one or two alternate jurors may also be selected at the direction of the judge in case one or two of the jurors are removed for cause or become ill.

Jury selections continue until juries have been chosen for each scheduled trial. Remaining panelists are then dismissed. The selection process usually takes about half a day.

The panel can be recalled the following month for a second jury selection. If that happens, the process described above will be repeated for trials scheduled that month.

Jury panels are called to provide a pool of potential jurors for upcoming trials. The panel remains active for up to two months. As a member of the panel, you must attend one or two jury selection processes during that period.   

Jury selection for civil trials is much the same as for criminal trials. Civil trials resolve disputes between the plaintiff (the party that initiated the action) and the defendant (the party that the action is against). Both parties are represented by their lawyers at the jury selection.

The questions to the jurors will be different than in criminal trials For example, suppose the plaintiff is suing a doctor for mal-practice. The plaintiff`s lawyer may ask the jury to put up their hands if they may be been unhappy with their own doctor. Whoever puts his or her hands up will be excused by the lawyer for the plaintiff. The reason is obvious. Those who put their hands up will be biased against the defendant.

One of the key stressors in the O.J. Simpson trial was the looming threat of a mistrial due to the court constantly hemorrhaging jurors. The case was given the standard twelve jurors and had twelve alternates assigned to it, but at one point, so many alternates were being called upon to fill in the loss of jurors  that it seemed like they'd run out faster than jurors were being dismissed in the months of the long proceedings.  Just how many jurors were dismissed during the O.J. Simpson?

A whopping 10 people were ultimately dismissed from the jury box during the course of the trial, leaving only two alternates remaining by the end of the trial.  

 The jurors who were dismissed were let go for reasons ranging from a failure to disclose a potential conflict of interest to a 26-year-old flight attendant who broke down in Judge Ito's chambers begging to be dismissed.

If the court had run out of alternates, then Judge Lance would have been forced to declare a mistrial, and the countless hours and resources that were pumped into the case all would have gone to waste. A mistrial would have left Simpson potentially too broke to pursue a second defense team, and the justice system looking just as bad with a fumbled trial. the judge would have to have ordered another trial and go through the same procedures as were done in the first trial.

Jury nullification is a concept where members of a trial jury find a defendant not guilty if they do not support a government's law, do not believe it is constitutional or humane, or do not support a possible punishment for breaking the law. This may happen in both civil and criminal trials.

In a criminal trial, a jury can nullify the case by acquitting a defendant, even though the members of the jury may believe that the defendant did commit the alleged crime. This may occur when members of the jury disagree with the law the defendant has been charged with breaking, or believe that the law should not be applied in that particular case. A jury can similarly convict a defendant on the ground of disagreement with an existing law, even if no law is broken (although in jurisdictions with double jeopardy rules, a conviction can be overturned on appeal, but an acquittal cannot be overturned.  

There was a very important case heard in Canada back in the 1970s where Doctor Morgantaler (an abortionist) was charged with committing an abortion which was illegal then in Canada. The jury found him not guilty because they believed the law was not in the best interests of society. The Crown brought in another jury for another trial and they found the doctor not guilty for the same reason. The crown tried him a third time and the third jury came to the same conclusion. The government finally gave up and abortions became legal after that.

I hope you have found this article informative.

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