How a Jury is Chosen

Jury service begins with a summons to serve the court. Jurors are selected from Washington State driver license/ID and voter registration records provided by the State of Washington and King County. Only Seattle residents are summoned to serve as a juror at Seattle Municipal Court.

When you receive your jury summons, you are asked to complete an online questionnaire prior to your service date. This questionnaire helps the court determine eligibility and provides basic information that the judge and attorneys use to pick the best jury to hear the case.

On arrival to the court, you are checked in by a jury coordinator and participate in a juror orientation. Then you wait with other jurors until called to a courtroom.

During your wait, many things are happening "behind the scenes." Cases are being heard by the Master Calendar judge to determine if a case is ready to move forward to trial or other disposition. If a case is ready for trial, the case is assigned to a trial judge and courtroom. All the case participants meet in the courtroom to hear any last-minute motions, possible pleas, etc. If everything is ready, the trial judge instructs the bailiff to assemble a jury.

The bailiff sends a request to the Jury Coordinators that the judge has asked for a jury panel of fifteen (15) to twenty (20) potential jurors to be brought to the courtroom for voir dire. Voir dire is an old French phrase meaning "to speak the truth."  The panel of jurors is assembled in Jury Assembly and the bailiff escorts the jurors to the respective courtroom.

Once the jurors have been seated in the courtroom, the jurors are sworn in and voir dire begins. The judge will explain the case and introduce the lawyers and other participants. As part of jury selection, the judge and lawyers will question prospective jurors to determine if anyone has knowledge of the case, a personal interest in it, or any feelings that might make it hard to be impartial.

Questions asked during voir dire may seem personal but should be answered completely and honestly. The questions are not intended to embarrass anyone but are used to make sure that members of the jury do not have opinions or past experiences which might prevent reaching an impartial decision.

During voir dire the lawyers may ask the judge to excuse a juror from sitting on the case. This is called "challenging a juror." There are two types of challenges: a challenge for cause and a peremptory challenge.

A challenge for cause means the lawyer has a specific reason for thinking that a juror would not be able to be impartial. For example, the case may involve driving under the influence of alcohol. If a juror had been in an accident with a drunk driver and was still upset about it, the defense attorney could ask that the juror be excused for that reason. There is no limit to the number of jurors who may be excused for challenge for cause.

Peremptory challenges do not require the lawyers to state any reason for excusing a juror. Peremptory challenges are intended to allow lawyers, both prosecution and defense, to do their best to assure that the trial is fair. Peremptory challenges are limited to three per side in most cases.

When both parties have agreed upon a jury of six and in some cases, one alternate, the jurors are sworn in to try the case. Those not selected are excused back to Jury Assembly to be re-pooled (if needed) for additional trials.

Once impaneled, the jurors' role is to listen to the evidence conscientiously and not draw premature conclusions. They are instructed by the judge not to discuss the case with outsiders or each other (until deliberations). They generally do not have the right to ask questions of witnesses.