So you get notice that you need to show up to perform jury duty. What now?
Well, you do have the option to choose to ignore that letter. However, there is the potential for you to get, for example, a bench warrant (Get pulled over for speeding and end up getting arrested because of skipping out on jury duty), fines, or other penalties assessed against you. I personally wouldn't recommend this, but it's of course your prerogative to choose what you think is worth doing.
You may have the option to postpone it. Before doing this, I would highly suggest looking into when you are most likely to get called back in (for example, I believe Nassau County has it at six months) to see whether it's going to be an even more inconvenient time in your life to be serving your jury duty responsibility. Maybe your brother is getting married in six months. Maybe you will have a baby due in six months. Maybe something completely out of the blue is going to pop up that is going to make it extremely inconvenient to show up six months down the road. In any case, if you have no great reason to postpone it, I would highly suggest not postponing it just to avoid any inconvenient surprises popping up.
So at this point, you are going in to serve jury duty. Bring a book. Bring a magazine. Bring a phone (and charger!). You are likely to sit in a room for what feels like (and may very well be) hours before they call you up, if they end up calling you up at all, so if you don't bring something, you're going to be in for a rough time.
If you get called up, you'll likely get called in a very large group. Of that group, the judge is going to ask for all people who may have extenuating circumstances that would prevent them from being at the court for the estimated length of the trial. Some of the circumstances you may be able to bring up are issues such as your own health, ability to consistently transport yourself to the court in a timely manner, child care, elder care, or inability to deal with stressful situations. Maybe your job cannot spare you for that long, or you have some other unique situation. The judge, the prosecution, and the defense will all discuss the validity of your inability to serve, and will either choose to accept or reject that reason.
After all the exemptions happen, you will be left with a much smaller pool of people. In my particular case, I found that approximately 70% of the original pool argued successfully to be exempted from serving. From that smaller group of people, the court system will select (randomly, in Nassau County) a group of people for the judge, the prosecution, and the defense to perform 'voir dire' against. This essentially means that the judge, the prosecution, and the defense will ask these potential jurors questions to ascertain whether the jurors may have any preexisting bias for or against any party that may be giving testimony, or for the validity of certain evidence, or maybe even whether the existence of certain evidence would or would not support a particular hypothesis. Essentially, what the judge, the prosecution, and the defense are aiming to do is to find the most fair-minded people available to try this case. As such, anybody who demonstrates their inability to be fair-minded, their inability to consider the relevance of any given piece of evidence, or their inability to come to mutual agreement with others is likely to also be dismissed.
In our particular case, of the 15 that were selected to perform voir dire against, four were chosen as people appropriate to serve on the jury. I was chagrined to have been chosen due to the inconvenience jury duty was going to cause to me, but also was somewhat proud that my responses were considered to be fair and even-minded.
So at this point, you've failed to convince the judge, the prosecution, and the defense that you would somehow be unfit to serve on a jury. The court will notify you as to the beginning of the trial, and will notify you of any special instructions pertaining to the case.
The judge will instruct you as to the rules and process of being a juror as the laws of your jurisdiction put forth. In our case, at least, you will also take an oath regarding your service as a juror. Then the prosecution and defense both will have the opportunity to make opening statements, which may essentially serve as a preview to what you, as a juror, can expect out of this case. As our judge instructed us, the opening statement and closing arguments are really just conjecture that may help shape juror decisions regarding evidence, but is not itself evidence.
The prosecution then is given the opportunity to present its witnesses. This will take the form of questions from the prosecution that witnesses are expected to answer truthfully. Physical evidence may also be introduced to the jury in this testimony as part of the questioning of the witness. Following each witness testimony, the defense is then allowed to ask questions of those witnesses that will hopefully help clarify details of the case. If this questioning causes the prosecution to have further questions of a witness, the prosecution is able to further question the witness following the defense, and both sides are able to proceed like this until they are both satisfied of a particular witness.
After the prosecution exhausts their pool of witnesses and evidence, the defense is able to call witnesses and introduce evidence in the same manner, proceeding in the same way.
Following the defense's presentation of their case, both the defense and the prosecution will provide their closing statements. Again, these statements are not evidence, but they may help jurors in deciding what particular pieces of testimony or other evidence are more or less relevant to the case.
At this point, the jury is given instruction by the judge regarding the particular laws that apply to the charges in question, and will also give definitions to the various legal terms as they appear in those laws. The judge may also give further instructions to the jury regarding how to apply those laws.
You hopefully now have an idea of whether you think that the defendant should be found guilty or not guilty. It's up to you to convince eleven other people that your particular view of the evidence presented by both sides supports that verdict.
But before you begin deliberating, I would highly suggest that you ask your fellow jurors to submit their vote of guilty, not guilty, or unsure to the foreperson. The reason is this: If one of your fellow jurors is attempting to be a holdout to allow themselves out of other obligations such as work, it will be more difficult for them to make it so that there are two sides to argue. (If you are such a juror, then do your best to prevent such a vote from happening, or vote for unsure. I don't particularly agree with doing this, but hey, it's your prerogative to do so.)
Hopefully, this will reveal a unanimous vote, that either the prosecution presented a case where there was absolutely no room for reasonable doubt, and that the defendant should be judged as guilty, or that the prosecution in fact was not able to present such a case, and that the defendant should be judged as not guilty.
But maybe it doesn't. And in a group of twelve people, it's quite possible. It is imperative that you keep your mind open to the possibility that you may not have heard something correctly, that you missed some important item that correlates to the case, or similar. If you or another juror feel that you would benefit from a re-reading of the testimony of a witness in whole, or in part, it is to everybody's benefit to have this done. Similarly, if you feel that there is not consensus in the room regarding the laws relating to the charges, it is similarly to everybody's benefit to have those instructions re-read. And pay as close attention to the whole of the testimony or the instruction being read as you can: These readings require the judge, the prosecution, the defense, as well as you and your fellow jurors to be present, and so it behooves you to pay as much attention as possible throughout the entire reading.
In terms of conducting deliberation, it is extremely important that everybody gets as fair a chance as possible to present their point of view fully and without interruption. This is extremely difficult; sometimes an opposing viewpoint may find fault with a particular piece of a point of view, or maybe even an agreeing viewpoint may find reason to interrupt to introduce their reasons as to why the viewpoint being presented is valid or fair. But it is extremely unfair to the presenter to be interrupted, and setting the precedent early that interruption is a valid way to argue in either direction is only going to lend itself to further issues. Finding a way to signal a desire to speak (such as raising your hand), or finding a moderator among you to cut off interruptions, will go a long way to ensuring a proper and fair exchange of ideas.
As much as possible, try and put yourself with an understanding of other people's viewpoints. Even if you disagree with a particular viewpoint, try to see where that particular viewpoint may be derived from, and work very hard to take it in good faith and to help others see that viewpoint in good faith. If there are issues with how that viewpoint is derived, gently try to point out where there may be issues. And if you can't find particularly strong issues with a viewpoint, despite your disagreeing with them, it may be time to reevaluate your own viewpoint in light of that.
Pay attention to your own body language. If, for example, you are in a re-reading of a witness testimony, try to the best of your ability not to show any reaction to any particular portion of it. The re-reading may prove to you that your viewpoint is or is not validated, but to an opposing juror, it may indicate that you are simply listening to what you want to hear. Bring your new understanding up in the jury room. Similarly, if you disagree with a particular juror on any particular point, try not to shake your head, throw your hands up in exasperation, etc. during their explanation of their point, as it only serves to entrench them in their own position against your viewpoint. Try instead to use reason to show why that point may not be particularly valid. And really, try hard to understand where that point is derived from, and whether you need to reevaluate your own view of the case as a whole. Remember: The judge, the prosecution, and the defense all thought that each of you were fair and even-minded, and hopefully they were right. Every juror's viewpoint must be considered valid, no matter how much you disagree with it. And at the end of the day, every juror's viewpoint is valid simply because a unanimous vote is required to end with a verdict.
Playing devil's advocate for the other side can also be helpful. Firstly, it will help put you in the mindset that the other side's viewpoint is valid, and will help you piece together their argument more fully. Secondly, it will help the other side see that you do have sympathy for the way that they view things; this will hopefully also help them to have sympathy for the way that you view things. Demonstrating the loss of this sympathy, on either side, is a dangerous road to follow: It is difficult to convince anybody of anything if you likewise do not show a willingness to be convinced of anything.
Deliberations can become heated. After all, most people experience a lot of inconvenience simply serving on a jury for any amount of time, and spending more time to try and pull towards one or another verdict can be extremely frustrating. If at any point the deliberations ever devolve into name-calling, or calling the integrity, intelligence, or fairness of one or more jurors into question, do your best to bring all of the jurors back to peace. It does not serve to get to a unanimous vote if there is demonstrated animosity from any of the jurors.
None of this is easy. Hopefully, with a re-reading of the testimony, or inspection of the given evidence, and with gentle and respectful reasoning, one or the other side will be able to be convinced that a particular view should be dismissed, and progress can be made.
If progress is made, see if that is enough to get to a unanimous decision. Otherwise, continue. Reevaluate your own viewpoint, try and see whether you or others have missed something in the testimony or other evidence that may or may not sway other jurors. After all, the difficulty and cost in selecting a jury means that it will take a significant amount of time for a judge to declare that a jury is hung. Thus, while the judge may be sympathetic to the difficulty of performing this duty, the judge will likely also encourage you to continue in your deliberations.
Thankfully, in my case, we were eventually able to successfully reach a unanimous decision. After that, and upon the reading of our verdict, my fellow jurors and I were discharged of our duties as jurors, and were able to reenter our normal daily lives. As frustrating as the process was at times, I personally gained an appreciation for the justice system and the value of jurors within it, and I am actually somewhat looking forward to serving as a juror again. As inconvenient as it may be to your own life, I highly encourage any potential juror to thoughtfully make the decision to serve their fellow citizens by serving their jury duty honestly.