A Guide to Jury Service

Useful information for the citizens of Illinois

The U.S. and Illinois constitutions guarantee that every person charged with criminal or civil wrongdoing, with few exceptions, has the right to a trial by a jury made up of a fair cross section of the community. The jury plays a pivotal role in a case: its members are charged with making a fair and impartial decision based on the facts presented during the trial. The jurors must not let any sympathy, prejudice, or bias influence them in any way during their service.

This information is intended as a guide to the citizens of Illinois who may be called to jury service. We remain one of the few countries in the world who have trial by jury, bringing forth people from all walks of life to exercise the conscience of the community by sitting in judgment of their fellow citizens. It is a vitally important, awesome responsibility, essential to the administration of justice, and ultimately an extremely satisfying experience for most people. Being a juror truly presents citizens with the opportunity to take an active role in their government and allows them to actively contribute to and understand how our justice system works. 

Frequently asked questions about jury selection

Who may serve as a juror?

To be eligible for jury service, you must be a citizen of the United States; at least 18 years old; a resident of the county; not have a pending lawsuit in the county where the case is being tried; and be able to read, write, and understand the English language. There are no education or skill requirements, nor do you need to know about the law. Some exemptions for hardship are available; if you believe jury duty will cause you undue hardship, the court will look at your job, physical health, family situation, and military status to determine whether you must serve. 

How are citizens selected?

To be summoned for jury duty, a citizen must be a registered voter, or have a driver's license, a State ID Card, or an Illinois Person with a Disability Identification Card. Every eligible citizen may be called for jury service once every 12 months.

Where do people report for jury service?

You must report to the address indicated on the jury summons at the time stated. In many counties, you can call the phone number on the summons the night prior to your appearance to verify that you must be present. Once at court, prospective jurors are grouped into panels from which trial juries are selected.

What happens if you don't report?

If you do not report, you may be held in contempt of court and fined and/or sent to jail.

Can jury service be postponed to a more convenient date and time?

If you cannot appear on the summons date, you may ask for a postponement to a more convenient date. Call the number on the summons to explain why you cannot appear. 

What if I have a hardship in serving as a juror for a specific trial?

During jury selection, the judge will ask whether there are hardships that would prevent a juror from serving for a specific period of time. Hardships might include childcare issues, vacations that are already paid for, serious health concerns, etc. Any potential hardships should be explained to the judge and the judge will determine whether the hardship merits you being excused from service on that jury.

How long does the jury selection process take?

In the courtroom, you will be asked to take an oath in which you promise to answer all questions truthfully. Most often, the jury selection process is concluded in one day. 

Is job employment protected?

Yes. Regardless of how long a trial lasts, legally, you are protected against employer harassment or from being fired for responding to jury service; however, you must notify your employer in advance that you received the summons. In addition, an employer cannot require a night shift worker to work while such employee is doing jury duty in the daytime. An employer is not required by law to pay employees who take time off work for jury service, although many employers choose to do so.

Is there a dress code?

There is no formal dress code, but jurors should observe courtroom decorum and dress as they would for an office job. Casual clothing such as t-shirts, tank tops, shorts, and sandals is not appropriate for the courtroom. It is advisable to wear layers of clothing since the courtroom may be too warm or cool for some people.

What items can be brought into the courthouse?

Some courthouses have restrictions on bringing in items such as cellular phones, cameras, laptop computers, or other electronic equipment. If you have questions, check in advance with court personnel.

Who actually decides which citizens will serve as jurors?

Judges make the final decision; however, attorneys are allowed a certain number of peremptory challenges, meaning that they can, without giving a reason, ask that certain prospective jurors be excused. If you are not accepted as a juror, you should not take the rejection as an attack on your integrity, or otherwise take it personally.

Frequently asked questions about jury service

What types of cases do jurors hear?

There are two types of cases: criminal and civil. In a criminal case, a defendant is charged with a violation of criminal law and has pled "not guilty." The jury then hears all the evidence and decides whether the person is guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt." 

A civil case is one where a person or group of persons, such as a corporation, sues another for reasons that include personal injury, damage to property, or failure to complete a contract. The burden of proof is by a "preponderance," or greater weight, of the evidence.

What happens during a trial?

Events in a trial usually happen in a particular order: opening statements by the attorneys, presentation of the evidence including testimony and exhibits, closing arguments, jury deliberations in a separate room, and, finally, the announcement of the verdict. Once the verdict is announced, the judge will excuse the jurors. During the trial, jurors are expected to listen attentively and take notes if they wish. 

Can jurors ask questions during the trial?

Jurors are unable to directly ask questions of the witnesses or conduct their own independent investigations. Jurors who violate this rule run the risk of causing a mistrial. However, in some civil trials, jurors are permitted to submit questions to the judge, who may then ask the witness the question if the judge decides the question is admissible.

Is it true that jurors cannot discuss the case during the trial?

To make sure that the trial is fair for everyone, jurors cannot discuss the case with anyone until deliberations have ended. This includes family members, lawyers, witnesses, and the media. Jurors are strictly prohibited from commenting or posting anything about the case on social media platforms while they are serving in the case. Jurors also cannot discuss the case with their fellow jurors until they begin their actual deliberations on the verdict 

Can a juror research anything about the case? 

Jurors cannot look into any aspect of the case while serving, for to do so would endanger the entire trial process. The judge will repeatedly warn the jurors that they are not to access outside accounts of the case on any media source; visit the scene of the case; or search the internet regarding any issue, witnesses, or legal principles. If a juror violates the judge’s order, they could be held in contempt of court, fined, and/or sent to jail.

Can the trial proceed if one of the jurors is late, has an illness, or a family emergency?

The delay or absence of even one juror can delay the trial. If you are unable to report, you should inform the court staff as soon as possible.

How long do trials last?

Every trial is different. Depending on the circumstances, the trial may last from a few days to several weeks or months. The judge will inform members of the jury how long he or she anticipates that the trial will last. As a juror, you should be aware that there are often delays in the proceedings. A judge, for example, may take time to look up the law on a point that has been made. You may want to bring in reading materials. 

Are citizens paid for jury duty?

The county is required to pay citizens a fixed amount for each day they report for jury duty. In addition, the county must pay reasonable travel expenses and actual cost of daycare incurred by the juror during his or her service on jury duty.

Jurors must be free to make their decisions without fear of criticism or retaliation. The court will protect jurors during and, if necessary, after the trial. If you have reason to believe that your safety is in danger, you should promptly inform the court personnel or judge.

Key terminology during a trial

Plaintiff – A person who brings an action; the party who complains or sues in a personal action and is so named on the record. In a criminal case the plaintiff is the People of the State of Illinois and they are represented by the state’s attorney or assistant state’s attorneys.
Defendant – The party being accused of a crime in a criminal case; the party who is being sued in a civil action and is so named on the record.

Opening statements – Statements made by the attorneys at the beginning of the trial to acquaint the jurors with the facts they expect to be revealed during the trial.  An opening statement is not evidence.

Closing arguments – Arguments made by the attorneys nearly at the end of the trial to show how the facts and evidence in the case should support their side. Closing arguments are not evidence and any statements or arguments that are not supported by evidence presented during the trial should not be used by the jurors to decide the verdict.

Objections – Rules of evidence and procedure have been developed for centuries so that trials can be fair to everyone involved. Sometimes the attorneys object to questions asked, arguments or statements of opposing counsel, or exhibits. The lawyers do this because they feel that it is against the rules of evidence or procedure. The judge decides whether it is allowed, and the decision does not mean that the judge is taking sides or any position on what the outcome in the case should be. When the judge sustains the objection, it means the jury is not to consider in any way the question or any possible answer when they are deliberating on the verdict. If the judge overrules the objection, the jury can consider the question and answer.

Foreperson – A member of the jury elected by the jury members before they begin their deliberation. The foreperson acts as a facilitator of the deliberation process.

Jury instructions – Jury instructions state the law. The jurors determine the facts from the case, but it is their duty to apply the facts to and follow the law as set forth in the instructions. Jury instructions will be provided by the judge and written copies of the jury instructions will be given to the jury so that they can be referenced during deliberations.

Expert witness – Expert witnesses are qualified to speak authoritatively by reason of their special training, education, skill, or familiarity with a subject, generally on matters of scientific, technical, or professional issues related to the trial.

Rebuttal – Witnesses or evidence, typically introduced by the plaintiff or the prosecution, after the defendant has presented evidence and testimony. The plaintiff or the prosecution believes this testimony or evidence rebuts or contradicts the evidence or testimony presented by the other party.

Redirect examination – Follows cross-examination by a lawyer and is conducted by the party who first examined the witness.

Deliberations – The period after the evidence has been presented when the jury moves to a special room to discuss the evidence and reach a decision or "verdict."

Burden of proof – In the law of evidence, the necessity or duty of affirmatively proving a fact or facts in dispute. In a criminal case, the prosecution must prove that the defendant committed the crime "beyond a reasonable doubt." In a civil case, the burden of proof is by a "preponderance," or greater weight, of the evidence.

Verdict – The written decision of the case signed by all the jury members. A verdict must be unanimous, meaning that all the jurors must agree on it. 
Polling the jury – A practice whereby jurors are asked individually whether they agreed and still agree to the verdict.

Sentencing – During a criminal trial, and while the jury is deliberating the verdict, it is improper for jurors to concern themselves with any possible punishment or sentence that may be imposed if the defendant is found guilty. Judges are obligated to follow the law and constitution when determining the sentence for someone found guilty of a criminal action. Sentences may include prison, jail time, a fine, some form of probation, conditional discharge, or court supervision.

Illinois Judges Association
321 S. Plymouth Court
Chicago, Illinois 60604
(312) 431-1283 or (888) 431-1283
E-mail address: info@ija.org
Website: www.ija.org

Illinois State Bar Association
424 S. Second Street
Springfield, Illinois 62701
(217) 525-1760 or (800) 252-8908
Website: www.isba.org

Prepared by the Illinois State Bar Association's Bench and Bar Section (2023)

This pamphlet is prepared and published by the Illinois State Bar Association as a public service. Every effort has been made to provide accurate information at the time of publication.

For the most current information, please consult your lawyer. If you need a lawyer and do not have one, call Illinois Lawyer Finder at (800) 922-8757 or online www.IllinoisLawyerFinder.com