A brief history of the jury

Sidebar by Lynda La Rocca

Jury Duty – November 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

So what is a jury, anyway? A jury is a group of people legally selected and sworn to inquire into, and decide the truth of, factual evidence and to render a verdict according to that evidence.

The jury’s earliest incarnation in England (the legal system upon which our own is based) may have derived from the Norman institution of “recognition by sworn inquest,” in which 12 knights were chosen to examine matters of interest to the Crown (such as the taxation of an individual) which could become the subject of public inquiry.

By the 12th century, it was customary for these “recognitors” to determine, either through their own knowledge or by inquiring of others, the truth of the matter at hand. Gradually, all questions of fact were disposed of this way, and the recognitors were transformed into a jury in common law.

Initially, such jurors were not solely judges of fact; they were also witnesses, chosen for their knowledge of the local population and its customs. By the 15th century, however, juries were restricted to judging facts based on the evidence submitted, which is the function of the modern jury.

In the United States, names of prospective jurors are drawn by lot by the court clerk, and a group of citizens is called to appear for jury duty. Both the prosecution and the defense may question each prospective juror to determine whether factors such as bias might improperly influence a juror’s decision. Either side may then “challenge” such jurors to eliminate them from service.

Each state has its own qualifications for jury service. In Colorado, jurors must:

— be 18 or older;

— reside in the county or municipality from which the summons originated;

— be a United States citizen;

— be able to read, speak and understand the English language;

— not have appeared at a courthouse for juror service for five or more days during the preceding 12 months;

— not have sole responsibility for the daily care of a permanently disabled person living in the same household;

— not have a physical or mental disability that would affect the ability to serve as a juror.

Jurors are paid according to state statute. In Colorado: employers pay regular wages for the first three days of service; unemployed jurors may ask the court for reasonable expenses for the first three days of service.

The state pays county and district court jurors $50 per day after the third day of actual juror service.

As for the self-employed, we rely on the kindness of the judge and his or her influence with the state for compensation for the first three days of service.

And having been a juror twice, I now have two personalized certificates from the state of Colorado, thanking me for my service.