TV vs. Reality: Jury duty in Virginia

In early April, Amazon’s Freevee (a free ad-supported streaming service) released Jury Duty, an eight-part mockumentary-style show with an ambitious premise. Ronald Gladden responded to a Craigslist ad, willing to take part in a documentary that explores what it’s like to serve on a jury in America.

Cody Heller from Jury Duty

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The only thing he didn’t know was that everyone and everything associated with that trial was completely staged. I will keep this post spoiler-free, but over the course of the 17-day jury trial, the audience gets a semi-factual look behind the scenes of what jury duty could look like.

So, I wanted to separate some truth from fiction on what a prospective Virginia juror can take away from Jury Duty.

Can you volunteer for jury duty in Virginia?

In California, citizens can volunteer for participation in a grand jury. The show expands this concept and is couched in the idea that a person can also volunteer for jury duty. Ronald, the main character of Jury Duty, wasn’t selected by a government body for this fake trial.

Virginia does not allow people to volunteer for jury duty. Juries are meant to be impartial and fair. One mechanism that ensures a fair pool of prospective jurors is randomness. So, courts in Virginia will select residents at random to be summoned for jury duty.

jury seats

Does jury selection really take 3 days?

In the show, the process of selecting a jury is depicted as a laborious process that seems to drag on interminably. In Virginia, jury selection, also known as voir dire, is typically a much shorter process. It can depend on the sensitivity of the issues involved in the case, publicity, and the ability of the parties to find enough fair and impartial jurors. However, it would be very unusual for a jury selection process to last so long. Bring a book just to be safe.

Is it common for a jury to be sequestered?

No. While sequestration is possible in Virginia, it is exceedingly uncommon. Even in the most highly publicized Virginia trial in 2022, Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard, the jury was not sequestered. It is the judge’s discretion to sequester a jury and the primary considerations are the safety of the jurors and the potential for outside influence. A few paparazzi trying to get pictures of a celebrity would probably not warrant such an extreme measure.

juey members listening to an argument

Does the judge select the foreperson for juries?

In Virginia, no. After all the evidence is presented, both sides have concluded their arguments. The judge instructs the jury about the law governing the case, then the jury retires for deliberations. It is during those deliberations that the jury members themselves select their leader.

Can a jury be taken to the scene of an accident?

Yes! Virginia Code § 8.01-376 allows for either party to request that the jury be taken to view the premises or place in question at trial. The judge has to make a determination that such a view is “necessary to a just decision,” but the information from that view is only for the purpose of clarifying or explaining evidence in the case. And jurors are not allowed to wander the premises unsupervised.

If you or someone you love has been injured and needs an attorney with expertise trying real jury trials, please contact Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen so we can help. For a free case evaluation today, call 866-388-1307.