Serving as a Juror
Welcome to jury service in the Alabama Middle District. We have included in this section some information to assist you during your term of service. If you do not find the answer to your question on our website, please call the jury office at (334) 954-3950.
Your role as a juror is an important part of the American system of justice. The protection of our rights and liberties is largely achieved through the teamwork of judge and jury who, working together in a common effort, put into practice the principles of our great heritage of freedom. The judge determines the law to be applied in the case while the jury decides the facts. Thus, in a very important way, jurors become a part of the court itself. (Watch this animated overview.)
Please know how much we value your willingness to participate in jury service in the Alabama Middle District.
As part of the American system of justice, we rely on citizens just like you to carry out our responsibilities. In fact, jury service is so important that it is part of the history of this country and the U.S. Constitution itself. Citizens who have been charged with a crime are considered innocent until proven guilty. When these individuals put their liberty in the hands of a criminal judicial proceeding, they have a right to a trial by a jury of their peers. As a juror, you are among the small group of people who provide that right for your fellow citizen. (Everyday citizens discuss their thoughts on jury service.)
Juries are also needed in civil cases where the disputes between parties don’t involve the criminal justice system. The Alabama Middle District conducts both criminal and civil trials. Both types of trials (and everyone affected by their resolution) are dependent on people like you who willingly participate in jury service. On behalf of all involved in our proceedings, we appreciate your service.
How Jurors Are Selected
The process of jury selection actually begins long before anyone serves on a jury. Every four years (coinciding with presidential terms), the Alabama Middle District creates a master “jury wheel” that includes the names of approximately 112,000 people who live in the 23 counties that make up our district. Of those, approximately 65,000 individuals in this “jury wheel” are selected to receive a questionnaire that they are required to complete and return. Through that process, the Clerk’s Office will select 25,000 – 30,000 qualified individuals who can be summoned for jury duty as needed during a four-year period. (ALMD Plan for the Random Selection of Grand and Petit Jurors.)
When jury trials are scheduled, the Clerk’s Office begins summoning a jury pool – a sizeable number of people from whom judge and attorneys can select to give their case a fair hearing.
When you are summoned to jury service in the Middle District of Alabama, you will receive a “summons package” addressed to you by name that provides instructions for your service. This package includes a 9-page questionnaire that you must complete and return. Unless you present a reason to be excused from service, you will become part of a jury panel.
What to Expect During Your Jury Service
Jury panels are selected for a “trial term,” which is a two-week period, but the actual days of service vary. You could serve only a few days – possibly less or possibly longer. You could be released without being seated on a jury. In some cases, juries are selected but are released before a trial begins.
Your presence in the jury panel is important whatever the timeframe, and regardless of whether you are selected for a case. The judicial system depends on the availability of qualified jurors as judge and attorneys seek resolution to their cases through jury selection. Many times the presence of a jury prompts the parties to settle their disputes before the trial begins.
The instructions will also let you know that after 6 p.m. on the night before you are scheduled to arrive at the courthouse, you should call the Code-a-Phone system to find out if there have been changes in the case that could affect your service.
On the day of your jury service, you will arrive at the designated courthouse at the time indicated in your summons instructions. (The Alabama Middle District has three courthouses – in Montgomery, Opelika, and Dothan. Jurors are selected based on their place of residence and proximity to these courthouses.)
If you are selected for jury service in Montgomery, you will go through security to enter the building, and then gather in the jury assembly room. There you will be given an orientation to jury service and watch a video. If you are serving in Dothan or Opelika, after going through security, you will be directed to the Clerk’s Office or to an assembly area in the hallway.
During this assembly time, the jury administrator or clerk personnel will record your one-way mileage for reimbursement and also provide a certificate of service for your employer, if needed. By mid-morning, the jury panel will be escorted to the courtroom. There the judge and court deputy will begin the process of jury selection. Depending on the complexity of the case and other factors, jury selection may take one to two hours.
The voir dire part of jury selection involves “competency to serve” and determining if there are specific personal factors that hinder the ability to serve. Another set of questions will be case-specific. These questions will involve such questions as whether anyone on the jury panel knows the attorneys or witnesses involved or if there are other factors that could impact the ability to provide a fair hearing.
During this process, the judge may release some jurors from service altogether, or some may be released from one particular case while remaining in the jury panel for the judge’s next jury case.
Attorneys will also have an opportunity to ask the jury panel questions, and jurors will be given the opportunity to answer these questions out loud or in front of the judge. The purpose of these questions is never to intimidate or embarrass a juror, but only to determine if the different sides of the case can receive a fair and impartial hearing.
The jury panel will be released for a break during which the attorneys work with the judge to “strike” the case. Attorneys for each side are given a number of preemptory strikes – removing jurors for whatever reason from their case. If attorneys deem there is a reason that a juror may not give their client a fair and impartial hearing, they may also strike for cause. These discussions are outside the hearing of the jury panel, and jurors will not know these reasons.
When the jury panel’s break has ended, jurors will return to the courtroom. The judge will announce the names of those who have been seated on the jury and will give instructions about the case timeline.
If you are not selected, your two-week period has ended, and the judge will thank you for your service. If you are selected, the judge will give you instructions about the start time for the trial. In some cases, you will be sent home and asked to return on another day. In other cases, opening statements will begin that day. Once seated, all instructions to the jury will come from the judge for your case.
Concerned about a Juror Scam?
Please be aware that the U.S. District Court will never ask for personal information over the telephone. Most contact between the court and a prospective juror takes place through the U.S. Mail. Any telephone contact initiated by the court will not include requests for social security numbers or credit card information.