08 September 2015

Can a Jury Trial Be Held on Election Day?

As long as I've been practicing law every courthouse I've been to has declined to schedule jury trials on election days. When I was a brand new attorney a judge explained it to me by saying "You cannot summons jurors on election day and therefore you cannot have a jury trial." I never bothered to check the law on this. Every judge I had appeared in front of refused to schedule juries on election days and it just became one of those things everybody knew could not be done.

Today I was scheduling a jury trial and the judge set it to start on election day. I told the judge that was election day so we couldn't start the trial that day. His reply? "What is your statutory support for that?" I stood there flat footed and said something brilliant like "Umm, every court I've ever been in has told me that." The judge then went ahead and scheduled the jury trial for election day. It really doesn't make a difference to me when the jury starts, but the legal question bugged me. So, I spent more time than I should have researching.

I couldn't find anything in Virginia's statutes or case law which stated a jury trial could not be held on election day. However, I did find this:

Title 8.01: Civil Remedies and Procedure

§ 8.01-327.2. Who are privileged from arrest under civil process.
[T]he following persons shall not be arrested, apprehended, or detained under any civil process during the times respectively herein set forth, but shall not otherwise be privileged from service of civil process by this section:
. . .
7. Voters going to, attending at, or returning from an election. Such privilege shall only be on the days of such attendance.

For those of you who don't know how things work in Virginia, much of Title 8.01 is used as a default for trial procedure unless an issue is specifically dealt with in the criminal procedure sections. Even beyond that, a summons for jury duty is hardly a criminal summons (which would require one to come to court to answer an accusation of criminal activity).

So, as best I can tell, there is no requirement that juries not be held on election day. Notwithstanding that, if a juror decides to leave to go vote at any time during the trial judge cannot require that person to stay. So, if jeopardy has attached and Mr. Juror decides he is going to go vote at his precinct on the other side of the county Mr. Juror can leave. It could happen while the prosecutor is in the middle of his opening statement or the defense attorney is in the middle of a crucial cross examination or the judge is in the middle of reading jury instructions.

Is this likely to happen? No. In fact, it is downright ridiculous scenario. Nevertheless, it is the law and it shows an intention by the General Assembly to favor elections over courthouse proceedings. Still, if the General Assembly really wants to absolutely stop jury trials on election days it needs to be much less obscure than this.

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