Jury Service is the only way that a person not elected to or appointed to a position in the court system can serve in the judicial branch of our government.
The jury system is one of the foundation stones of free men and women. Trial by jury was something that our founding fathers felt was extremely important and they preserved that right in the Constitution of the United States of America and the Constitution of South Carolina. The jurors are the sole tryers of the facts in any case, criminal and civil, and the Constitution of South Carolina prohibits a judge from making any comment on the facts during the trial of a case, except when the jury is absent.
In our criminal court system there are two types of jury panels; the grand jury which consists of 18 people and the petit jury, which consists of 12 people at the circuit court level. Both the United States and the South Carolina Constitutions provide that no person can be charged with a capital, or death penalty" crime or other infamous crime except by indictment of a grand jury. In every criminal case, a person who is charged with a crime has a right to a jury trial.
The petit jury listens to evidence in every criminal case and in every civil case that is entitled to be tried by a jury. The jury decides whether the person charged is guilty or innocent in the criminal case. In the civil case they decide whether one party is liable to another for damages or other legal relief and, if so how much. When the jury decides a case they reach what is called a verdict. Verdict is a Latin word which means "to speak the truth." In order to reach a verdict in a case, all 12 jurors must agree; there is no majority rule.
All jury deliberations are secret. From the time you are sworn in by the clerk of court until you have reached a verdict, you must never discuss the case with anyone except the other members of the panel you are serving with, and only when the judge tells you to begin deliberations.
When you are called as a juror, take the summons that you will receive to the courthouse. You will go to a designated place which will be either a jury assembly room or a courtroom. You will be seated with the other jurors that have been summoned to serve with you. This entire group is called a venire.
When court convenes, the judge will be sitting behind an elevated desk called the bench; other court officials may include the clerk of court, the court stenographer or court reporter, and a representative of the sheriff's department.
In a criminal case, when your name is called, you may be asked to go to the front of the courtroom and the prosecuting attorney will make a decision as to whether you are to be on that jury. Next the attorney defending the person charged with the crime will also have a chance to say whether you are to serve on that jury.
In a civil case the jury is selected in quite a different manner. All of the names of all the jurors in the jury assembly room or the courtroom will be in a container on the desk of the clerk of court. A child under the age of ten, blind person or court official will draw names from this container until there are 20 names drawn. The plaintiff will then strike out four names and the Defendant will strike out four names, leaving a panel of twelve jurors who will try the case. After the final selection of twelve jurors, if you are selected, you will be seated in a space in the courtroom specially provided for the jury.
The clerk of court will administer the oath of office and the trial will start. During the trial of the case, you must listen to the testimony as each witness testifies, consider any exhibits of evidence, and decide the case on what you hear and see there in the courtroom. It would be a violation of the judge's instructions and highly improper to consider anything that you hear from other people, hear on television, or read in the newspapers.
After all the testimony and evidence has been presented by both sides of the case, the lawyers on each side will make final arguments to your jury panel. After that, the judge will explain the law that applies to the case and based on the facts that you have heard from the witness stand, the evidence presented and the law that the judge has explained, you must reach a verdict.
The judge will send you to a jury room where your deliberations will be in secret. Once you reach a unanimous verdict and it is read in court, your job is done and the judge will dismiss you. In the unusual situation where the jury is unable to reach a unanimous verdict, the judge may find it necessary to declare a mistrial and the case will have to be tried again before a different jury.
This information was prepared to give you some general information on the law. It is not intended as legal advice about any particular problem. If you have questions about the law you should consult a lawyer. If you do not know a lawyer, you can call the South Carolina Bar Lawyer Referral Service weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The number is 799-7100 in Richland or Lexington Counties, and 1-800-868-2284 from other parts of the state.