Reasonable Doubt: How you might end up on a jury

Jury duty: Kevin Yee takes you through what you need to know if you get called.

In January, I discussed the lawsuit involving Todd Bertuzzi’s on-ice attack of Steve Moore. If the parties don’t reach a settlement, this is expected to proceed to a trial in September. A trial judgment could have real consequences for those in professional sports. On a broader scale, the case will be of interest to the public at large. This case has generous doses of celebrity, scandal, and tragedy. Many people, sports fans or not, caught the footage of the attack and already have their own idea of what the verdict should be. It will interest a wide spectrum of people.

As I wrote, this is slated to be a jury trial and reports are suggesting it may last several months. There is something fascinating about jury trials. They are often been shown in TV and movies. Perhaps it’s some romanticized sense of justice that comes from being judged by one’s peers. I was at the courthouse library one afternoon. A dusty book from 1856 titled Trial By Jury caught my eye. In it, William Forsyth writes:

Now the very essence of the jury trial is its principle of fairness. The right of being tried by his equals, that is, his fellow-citizens, taken indiscriminately from the mass, who feel neither malice nor favor, but simply decide according to what in their conscience they believe to be the truth, gives every man a conviction that he will be dealt with impartially, and inspires him with the wish to mete out to others the same measure of equity that is dealt to himself.

Jury trials are often thought of in the context of criminal cases. However, jury trials do happen for civil matters. In B.C., a party may elect to have their trial heard before a jury.

So how might you end up in a jury? You can be summoned for jury duty if you are 19 or older, a Canadian citizen, and a resident of B.C. Certain people are ineligible—for example, judges, lawyers, members of the legislature, and individuals with a criminal record can not serve. If your name is on the voter’s list, the sheriff may randomly draw you from a pool of names. You are then summoned to court for jury selection. You are considered a potential juror.

Potential jurors may ask the sheriff to be exempt from jury duty. They are encouraged to do so in advance of jury selection. The sheriff may grant you exemption at his or her discretion. You may be exempt if you are a student, have health problems, or have travel plans.

Under the Employment Standards Act, your employer must allow you to serve on jury duty and is expressly forbidden from firing someone if they serve on jury duty. Jurors are entitled to $20 per day they serve. This amount increases to $60 per day on the 11th day of serving jury duty and to $100 per day on the 50th day.

On the day of jury selection, potential jurors are required to attend court. The judge generally informs them how long the trial is expected to run. The parties in the lawsuit select an eight-member jury out of the pool of potential jurors.

Each party has four challenges for potential jurors. The parties don’t need to give a reason to have them excluded. The only information the party has is the potential juror’s name, address, occupation, and any assumptions they might make about his or her appearance. Once the jury is selected, the civil trial begins.

When the plaintiff and the defendant finish introducing evidence, they argue their cases in front of the jury. The jurors then exit the courtroom to decide on a verdict. These deliberations are private. Once a verdict is reached, the jurors return to the courtroom and give their decision to the judge. The announcement is somewhat quick; the verdict is announced and the trial is concluded. A decision in a trial heard by a judge alone lays out the explanations and findings of fact. In contrast, the verdict of a jury does not typically include the explanation.

Because this decision-making process is cloaked in secrecy, there is often debate as to whether a jury came to their verdict fairly and appropriately. Certainly, it raises many important questions. Was the law properly explained to the jury? What evidence did the jury find most persuasive? Did prejudice and bias factor into the verdict?

A word of caution: You should not act or rely on the information provided in this column. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or formally seek advice from a lawyer.

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