VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN JOINS OTHER CITIZENS IN RECOGNIZING
THE IMPORTANCE OF JURY SERVICE
Monday, January 24, 2011 was much like any other busy day in the jury assembly room in the New Castle County Courthouse, except for one detail – the Vice President of the United States, Joseph R. Biden, was one of the prospective jurors. Dressed in a suit and seated in the center of the room, Vice President Biden was largely indistinguishable from the many other citizens who daily pour into jury services. It was only during the break when staffers needed to speak with him, that many realized that the Vice President was in their midst.
Although perhaps the most prominent Delawarean to have appeared for jury duty, the Vice President is one of many well known individuals, including judges, who have appeared to fulfill their jury duty. How is the Vice President of the United States, or anyone for that matter, selected for jury duty? The selection of jurors is the responsibility of the Superior Court, which supplies jurors not only for that court, but for the Court of Common Pleas, and for Justice of the Peace Court landlord tenant trials, as well. Jurors called to serve in the Superior Court may be called to serve on either a petit jury, which is a jury which hears the evidence and determines questions of fact in a trial, or on a grand jury. Grand juries determine whether the evidence presented by the State in a serious criminal case establishes probable cause to conclude that a crime was committed and that the person charged should be indicted and put to trial to determine guilt or innocence. Last year, approximately 33,881 individuals appeared for jury duty in Delaware and 4,088 served as jurors.
The process begins with a list created from the names of registered voters maintained by the Department of Elections supplemented with the current list of licensed drivers and identification card holders maintained by the Division of Motor Vehicles. This list is required to be as representative in terms of gender, age and race as the United States Census. Using this list, names are randomly selected for jury duty during a particular time period. When a person’s name has been selected, the individual is sent a juror qualification form and summons about one month before they are scheduled to appear for jury duty.
Delaware citizens are required, by law, to appear for jury duty, unless excused. Persons who have served on a jury within the past two years may be excused from jury service. Persons over 70 years of age, full-time police officers or fire fighters, those in the full-time armed services, including the reserve forces and the National Guard, active full-time clergy, those who are self-employed or paid primarily on commission, those primarily responsible for the care of persons who are unable to care for themselves, essential health care providers, and those whose jury service would violate deeply-held religious beliefs may request to be excused from jury service for these reasons. Due to an agreement between the Federal District Court and the Superior Court, persons who have served jury duty in the Federal District Court within the last two years may be excused from jury duty in the Superior Court and vice versa. Also, in some situations, such as when a person will be out of the state at the time they are due for jury service, the service may be deferred and rescheduled at the Court’s direction. Once a person appears for petit jury duty in New Castle County, they will serve for only one trial, or if they are not picked for a trial, for one day. Thereafter, their service is complete and they do not need to return until summoned again. However, in Kent and Sussex Counties, jurors are expected to serve for a two week period, whether or not they are picked for a trial.
Speaking of jury services, Superior Court President Judge James T. Vaughn, Jr. stated:
“Each of us should do all we can to promote this vital service of citizenship which anchors our government to the Constitution and secures our liberties….our dedication helps ensure, as Abraham Lincoln predicted, “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Those who appear for jury duty are given a thorough explanation of the process by Superior Court staff and are personally greeted by a judge of the Superior Court who thanks them for their efforts. Making the jury process work requires tremendous dedication on the part of the Superior Court, as well as the effort of the numerous Delaware citizens who give of their time to serve as jurors. The importance of jurors in the court process cannot be overstated. Vice President Biden recognized this in referring to his jury service as “an honor” and Superior Court President Judge James T. Vaughn, Jr., stated: “Delaware judges continue to advise our juries today in every criminal or civil case of their essential role. We charge that they, not the judges, are the sole and exclusive judges of the facts of the case, of the credibility of the witnesses, and of the weight and value of their testimony. While the judge determines the law to be applied, the jury’s role is that of an equal partner in the administration of justice….”