Judge Lewis shares importance of jury duty

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, July 27, 2022

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EDGARD — Jury duty is an important part of the judicial system that is often misunderstood by those who are called to service. Many misconceptions surround the process of jury duty, from what kind of dress code is expected of jurors to who can be excused or exempt.

Juries are selected case-by-case through a process called “voir dire,” a set of questions that determine whether each person is best suited to serve on that particular jury.

“It’s the only opportunity that both the prosecutor and defense counsel have to directly address prospective jurors,” said Nghana Lewis, District Court Judge, Division B, 40th Judicial District Court.

Prior to voir dire, there are baseline qualifications that each prospective juror must meet.

“You have to be a citizen of the United States, and you have to be at least 18 years of age. You have to be able to read, write and understand the English language,” said Judge Lewis. “The person also cannot have a felony conviction on their record that has not been pardoned by the governor. The person also cannot have ever been interdicted.”

The prospective juror also must be domiciled and residing in the parish where the prosecution is taking place.

Some people are exempt from jury duty if they meet certain qualifications.

“Persons who are 70 years of age or older can exercise their right to be exempt automatically,” said Judge Lewis. “Persons who have served on juries within the past two years preceding the date that they are subpoenaed to appear for voir dire, they, too can exercise their right to be exempt.”

It is against the law to ignore a subpoena to appear for jury duty.

“The consequence is that person has to show cause, which means that they have to appear and show cause why they did not honor the subpoena,” said Judge Lewis. “In showing cause, the court can find that the person is in contempt for failure to appear.”

In the case of a willful or negligent failure to appear, the penalty is usually a fine.

Due to the fact that juries are specially selected for each case, it is rare for a juror to be excused from jury duty. Under extraordinary circumstances, it is handled case by case.

“There are very few circumstances that would enable a court to dismiss a juror who is empaneled,” said Judge Lewis. “If the juror himself or herself becomes ill and has medical documentation to follow that, it may cause a delay in the trial.”

Prospective jurors cannot use employment as a basis for not appearing for jury duty but are often concerned about needing to take time off of work.

“A juror who is empaneled cannot be dismissed, cannot be discharged, cannot otherwise be adversely impacted because their service is occurring,” said Judge Lewis.

The Louisiana law is not clear-cut on whether or not employers are required to pay their employees consistently while serving on a jury, but it is against the law for employers to fire or dismiss an employee for serving on a jury.

Once jurors are selected, they are expected to follow a dress code of “professional comfort.”

“We want people to understand that court is to be taken seriously and to consider it a duty. We have to ask ourselves in terms of the kind of tone that we want to set,” said Judge Lewis. “The tone is one of professionalism, and we’re conducting the business of the court, and so therefore we expect the patrons who are coming to court to dress accordingly.”

For more information regarding dress code for court, visit  https://40thjdc.org/court-rules