Jury selection is the procedure whereby persons from the community are called to court, questioned by the litigants as to their qualifications to serve as a juror and then either selected to or rejected to serve as a juror.
In Rhode Island, a person is liable to serve as a juror if the person is[i]:
- A citizen of the U.S.; at least eighteen years of age and a resident of Rhode Island.
- Resides in the county where the person is registered to vote; licensed to operate a motor vehicle within this state; or possesses a Rhode Island identification card, an individual filing a state income tax return; or an individual recipient of unemployment compensation.
There are some disqualifications to serve as a juror. They are[ii]:
- If a person has been lawfully adjudicated to be non compos mentis,
- If the person has been convicted of felony.
The jury commissioner with the approval of the presiding justice of the superior court, select jurors from the registered voters by means of the use of electronic data processing equipment. The jury commissioner will supervise that neither the jury commissioner nor the machine operator of the device shall be able to determine any name until the name has actually been drawn. After drawing, a list will be prepared by randomly mixing the names drawn[iii].
The jury commissioner, either personally or by assistant will investigate the names of all persons drawn. The investigation can be made by the mailing of questionnaires or other written inquiries deemed by the jury commissioner to be appropriate. If the jury commissioner considers further investigation to be necessary, the investigation can include a personal interview by the jury commissioner or by one of the appointed assistants.
Juries in civil cases will be composed of six persons and such alternate jurors as can be called by the court. The jury commissioner will make lists of all grand and petit jurors for each town. S/he will preserve a full record of the investigation, which will not be disclosed to any person except by order of a justice of the superior court, or by order of the chief judge or associate justice of the family court. However, no rejection of a juror by the jury commissioner is final until it has been approved by a justice of the superior court. A justice of the family court who has been appointed by the chief judge for the purpose of considering the recommendations of the jury commissioner concerning the fitness of jurors can also reject jurors.
Any person aggrieved by the decision of the jury commissioner can appeal to the superior court; sitting without a jury, within one year from the time when his/her name was drawn. The court will hear the appeal and order that the name be placed upon or withdrawn from the list. The decision of any justice of the superior court upon the appeal will be final.
The superior court or family court will direct notices to the jury commissioner regarding the requirement for the county or counties a certain number of grand or petit jurors and the time and place at which they are required to attend. On receiving the notice, the jury commissioner will take from the list of jurors qualified in the order in which their names appear on the jury list.
No person summoned as a petit juror will be required to serve more than two weeks in any year in which s/he may be summoned. If a juror has been tentatively selected to serve on a jury by the parties litigant and the juror has not been formally sworn and impaneled by the end of the two week period, the trial judge, in his/her discretion, can extend the two week term until the trial is concluded or until the juror is excused.
Every officer charged with a notification to any person drawn as juror, who denies serving will for each offense be fined twenty dollars. All fines incurred by jurors and persons returned or notified as jurors will be levied and collected to the use of the state by warrant of distress from the court. It is directed to the sheriff or his/her deputy of the county in which the person dwells or his/her estate is to be found.
A justice of the superior court or the family court, or the jury commissioner, can excuse a person from jury duty if s/he shows a mental or physical disability, illness, or the serious illness of some member of his/her immediate family, economic or domestic hardship, or other good cause. But s/he can be required to serve his/her term or the remainder on an emergency panel of jurors. The discretion to so excuse can be exercised by the appropriate party at any time during the selection or assignment of jurors. Juries in civil cases will be composed of six persons.
The presiding justice of the superior court and the chief judge of the family court can assign a justice of those courts or the jury commissioner for the purpose of qualifying petit jurors and dividing the petit jury panels into subpanels. The assigned justice will order the panel of petit jurors to be divided into two or more subpanels, constituting of not less than twenty five members each in criminal cases and fifteen members each in civil case.
Whenever in the opinion of the court the trial of a civil case before a jury is likely to be a protracted one, the court may, immediately after the jury is impaneled and sworn, direct the calling of one or two additional jurors, to be known as alternate jurors. They will be drawn from the same source, the same manner, have the same qualifications, as regular jurors, and be subject to same examination and challenge, except that each party shall be allowed one peremptory challenge for each alternate juror[iv].
The court will examine on oath a person who is called as a juror to know whether s/he is related to either party, has any interest in the cause, has expressed or formed an opinion, is sensible of any bias or prejudice and the party objecting to the juror can introduce any other competent evidence in support of the objection[v]. The court can permit the parties or their attorneys to conduct the examination of the person called as a juror. If court feels that the juror does not stand indifferent in the cause, another will be called in his/her stead for the trial of that cause, but counsel for either party will not be precluded from examining prospective jurors.
Either party in a civil action can challenge in writing, addressed to the clerk of the court, any qualified jurors called for the trial of the cause or proceeding, not exceeding one in three, without alleging or showing any cause. The objection will be made before the opening of the proceeding to the jury. After the objection, the challenged jurors will not sit in the trial of the cause, but other jurors will be called to take the place of the challenged jurors for the trial of the cause[vi]. The person and estate of every juror attending any court in the state will be exempt from all process in any civil action during the period of his or her attendance on the court and for three days next before the time s/he will be required to appear and for the three days next after s/he will be discharged.
[i] R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-9-1
[ii] R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-9-1.1
[iii] R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-9-14.1
[iv] R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-10-13
[v] R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-10-14
[vi] R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-10-18