Delaware Trial Handbook § 6:6. SUMMONING JURORS

The method for obtaining jurors is prescribed by the Delaware Jury Selection and Service Act.46 The Act is designed to establish effective safeguards against impermissible forms of discrimination and arbitrariness and to provide litigants with jury pools that represent a fair cross-section of the community.47 To achieve these policies the Act embodies two important general principles: (1) random selection of juror names from the county in which the trial is to be held, and (2) determination of juror disqualification, excuses, exemptions and exclusions on the basis of objective criteria ony.48  However, a criminal defendant is not entitled to, and the Act does not guarantee, a perfectly representative jury. The nature of random selection makes it inevitable that a jury may on occasion fail to represent the exact demographic make-up of the community.48.1

Pursuant to the Act, courts must adopt a jury selection plan to carry out the policy and the provisions of the Act.49 Under the Superior Court Petit Jury Plan,50 the judges resident in each county appoint the jury commissioners for their  respective counties.  The jury commissioners monitor the selection process and, upon request by the jury manager, select the starting number for drawing names from the source list, determine the qualification of persons, rule on requests for excuses from jury service or otherwise participate in the process.51

The source list of each county is a computer-generated list composed of the current list 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.52  The source list is intended to be representative and as inclusive of the adult population in the jurisdiction as possible.52.1 Names of potential jurors from the source list are placed upon a “jury wheel,” where they remain for a limited time before being replaced by other names.53

When a panel of jurors is requested, the clerk of the court randomly draws the necessary number of names from the qualified jury wheel or source list, and the persons so selected are placed on a master list and served with a summons to report for jury service.53.1 If the names are drawn from the master list, a juror qualification form is served with the summons, and the qualification of the juror is determined upon receipt of the completed juror qualification forms.54 That form requires jurors to provide information approved by the court relative to the selection of jurors along with a declaration that the responses are true to the best of the prospective juror’s knowledge, and an acknowledgement that a false statement may be punishable by a fine or imprisonment or both.55 The juror qualification form requests confirmation of the name and address of the prospective juror, along with his or her social security number, telephone numbers at home  and  work, distance  from home to the courthouse, age, extent of formal education, race, marital status, employment and identification of employer and the employment and employer of the prospective juror’s spouse. The form also requests information as to the citizenship and criminal record of the juror and asks whether the prospective juror has ever been or has a close friend or relative who is or was employed by the office of the Attorney General or any other law enforcement agency or by an insurance or claims adjustment company. Finally, the form inquires whether the proposed juror requests excuse from jury service for any serious hardship.

Based on information derived from the juror qualification form or other competent evidence, the court must determine whether a prospective juror is disqualified from jury service.56 All persons are qualified for jury service, except those who are (i) not citizens of the United States; (ii) less than eighteen years of age; (iii) not residents of the county of prospective jury service; (iv) unable to read, speak and understand the English language56.1; (v) incapable, by reason of physical or mental disability, of rendering satisfactory jury service; or (vi) convicted felons who have not had their civil rights restored.57 Additionally, otherwise eligible jurors may be excused if their ability to receive and evaluate information is so impaired that they are unable to perform their duties as jurors.58

The court must also excuse persons from jury service or defer such service upon a showing of hardship, extreme inconvenience or public necessity. Examples include circumstances where the prospective jurors (i) served on a grand or petit jury within the past two years; (ii) are over seventy years of age; (iii) would be forced to violate deeply held religious beliefs by compelled jury service; (iv) are primarily responsible for the care of persons who are unable to care for themselves; (v) are essential health care providers; (vi) are full-time police officers or fire fighters; (vii) are active, full-time members of the armed services of the United States, Reserve Forces of the United States, or the Delaware State National Guard; (viii) are active, full-time members of the clergy; or (ix) are self-employed or paid primarily on commission.59

As an alternative to being excused from jury duty, prospective jurors may, in the discretion of the court or jury commissioner, be permitted to defer the dates of their service for a reasonably short period upon a showing of good cause shown.60

46. 10 Del. C. § 4501, et seq. (the “Act”).

47. 10 Del. C. §§ 4501, 4502; Celotex Corp. v. Wilson, 607 A.2d 1223, 1227 (Del. 1992).

48.  Celotex Corp. v. Wilson, 607 A.2d 1223, 1227 (Del. 1992).

48.1. State v. Burton, ID No. 0410003743, slip op. at 3, Bradley, J. (Del. Super. June 3, 2008); State v. Fahmy, I.D. No. 0410013428A, slip op. at 6, Del Pesco, J. (Del. Super. Jan. 22, 2008), aff’d mem., 966 A.2d 347 (Del. 1999).

49. 10 Del. C. § 4507(a).

50. Superior Court Petit Jury Plan, adopted June 6, 2002 (the “Petit Jury Plan”).

51.  Petit Jury Plan § 3.

52.  Petit Jury Plan § 4.

52.1. Superior Court Standards Relating to Juror Use and Management, Standard 2(b).

53. 10 Del. C. §§ 4503(4),(5), 4507(a)(7).

53.1. Superior Court Standards Relating to Juror Use and Management, Standard 3(a) (“[r]andom selection procedures should be used throughout the juror selection process”).

54. 10 Del. C. §§ 4508(a), 4510(b); Petit Jury Plan § 7.

55. 10 Del. C. §§ 4503(7), 4508(b). See also State v. Graham, Cr. A. Nos. 1K86-02-0819-0826, slip op. at 3, Ridgely, J. (Del. Super. Jan. 30, 1987).

56. 10 Del. C. § 4509(9).

56.1. Where there is a question as to a prospective juror’s proficiency in English, the judge should obtaining substantive information through expanded individual voir dire questions that elicit more than “yes” and “no” responses. Prospective jurors must be excused if they cannot demonstrate a sufficient knowledge of English. If the trial judge is not satisfied that a prospective juror’s English proficiency comports with the requirements of the statute, that person should be dismissed, not only from the jury venire for the case, but also from the master jury pool. Diaz v. State, 743 A.2d 1166, 1172 (Del. 1999).

57. 10 Del. C. § 4509(b); Superior Court Standards Relating to Juror Use and Management, Standard 4.

58. Superior Court Standards Reltaing to Juror Use and Management, Standard 6(b)(1); Letter from the Hon. Andrew D. Christie to Mr. Norman Balot, Chief, Bureau for the Visually Impaired, dated Feb. 22, 1978.

59.  Petit Jury Plan §8.

60.  Superior Court Standards Relating to Juror Use and Management, Standard 6(c).

© 2010  David L. Finger