Demystifying Jury Duty: Answers to Common Questions About Serving in New York State Courts

New York, NY – Jury duty is an important civic responsibility for residents of New York. Summoned by their local commissioner of jurors, individuals are called to serve as jurors in state court. While the notice may initially evoke feelings of apprehension, it is essential to understand the process and what to expect. Gothamist has compiled a list of frequently asked questions to help New Yorkers navigate their jury service experience.

Jury duty is deeply rooted in American democracy and can be traced back to the country’s founding documents. The U.S. Constitution guarantees every individual accused of a crime the right to a fair trial by an impartial jury. In criminal cases, the jury’s role is to carefully evaluate the evidence presented and determine if the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil trials, jurors decide whether a party is liable based on the preponderance of evidence. If a jury is unable to reach a verdict, the case may be retried.

The logistics of jury duty vary slightly from county to county in New York state. Prospective jurors are advised to review the information provided on their summons or consult with their local commissioner of jurors. In Queens, for example, potential jurors are required to call the court over the weekend to find out if they are needed on Monday. If not, they need to continue calling every night for a week. If they haven’t been called by Friday, they are relieved of their jury duty.

Once called into court, individuals should refer to their summons, which provides contact information for an official who will guide them on where to go and when to be there. It is crucial to double-check the courthouse address as each borough has multiple locations. Upon arrival, jurors will participate in a brief orientation, which includes informational videos about jury service and the court system. Subsequently, they may be selected for jury selection, known as “voir dire,” where attorneys and sometimes judges ask potential jurors questions to determine their impartiality. It is important to note that attorneys are prohibited from discriminatory practices when selecting jurors.

In New York, substantial changes have been made to improve the juror experience over the past three decades. Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye spearheaded an overhaul of the system, aiming to provide shorter jury service terms, improve court facilities, and enhance the training of court employees. The reforms also aimed to increase diversity among jurors, as it has been shown that racially diverse juries result in more thorough evaluation of evidence. Attending jury service allows individuals to contribute to their community and actively participate in the justice system.

Despite the improvements, some individuals may still seek to avoid jury duty. However, missing jury duty without a valid reason can result in penalties such as fines or being held in contempt of court. It is essential to notify court officials ahead of time if unavailable for jury duty and to provide valid reasons for postponement or excusal, such as medical or financial inability to serve.

New York law protects employees from repercussions by prohibiting employers from punishing or firing individuals who miss work for jury duty, provided they give prior notice. Jurors also receive compensation during their service, either from their employers or a daily payment from the state. Efforts are underway to increase the daily pay for jurors through pending legislation.

To be eligible for jury duty, individuals must be at least 18 years old, U.S. citizens, and residents of the county where they received their summons. Fluency in English is also required. Except in cases where a certificate of good conduct is obtained, individuals with felony convictions are generally disqualified from serving on a jury. However, this ban has been challenged by the New York Civil Liberties Union, which argues that it disproportionately affects Black residents and violates the Constitution.

New York state draws its jury pool from multiple public databases, ensuring a diverse representation of the population. The broader the reach, the more enlightened the jury will be, as diverse perspectives contribute to a fair deliberation process. Recognizing the impact of implicit bias, jurors attending court for jury service are now required to watch an educational video that highlights the importance of fair and unbiased decision-making.

Jury duty is an integral part of the American justice system. It provides an opportunity for citizens to actively engage in democracy and contribute to the fair administration of justice. By understanding the process and embracing the role of a juror, New Yorkers can make a meaningful impact on their community and uphold the principles upon which their nation was built. For more information about jury duty, visit