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Georgetown County, together with Horry County, forms the 15th Judicial Circuit of the State’s 16 circuit courts. The Circuit Court system in South Carolina is divided into the Court of Common Pleas, which hears only civil cases, and the Court of General Sessions, which hears only criminal matters. However, jurors may serve as needed in either court.
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Your service will normally be only for one week. Cases set for trial may be postponed or settled just as they are scheduled to begin, and other cases may be moved up on the Jury Trial Roster. Since it is impossible to predict the outcome of the cases on the roster, you should plan to be with us the entire week. The hours of court operation are determined by the presiding Judge; however, court generally begins each day at 9:30 am and adjourns at approximately 5:30 pm. At the end of each day, or if dismissed earlier, you should make sure that you know where and at what time you should report on the next day.
Civil and criminal case jury trials are conducted under similar rules and in much the same manner. A few differences you will notice include:
The Judiciary requires appropriate attire in the courtroom; specifically no tank tops, shorts, hats or "flip-flop" sandals are allowed.
You aren’t required to bring anything with you, although you may wish to bring a book or magazine to read during any delays or waiting periods; do not bring newspapers. Because of the need for quiet, you should not bring items such as computer games. Also, you may not bring activated cellular phones or pagers into the courtroom.
When you arrive at the courthouse, you will be required to pass through a metal detector. This metal detector is provided for the security of yourself and others. The officers and bailiffs on duty are required to confiscate such contraband items as guns, knives, mace, or other implements, which could be used as weapons or are considered a danger to the court. If you own such items, you should leave them at home.
There are certain rules of behavior that a juror should follow. Foremost among these is the requirement to always be on time. Delays inconvenience the judge, the attorneys, the parties, witnesses and other jurors. When a court session begins and the judge enters the courtroom, everyone including the jurors, should rise. You should always give your undivided attention to every question and answer during a trial, and during the voir dire process. You must answer all questions put to you with complete honesty. You should attempt to be as quiet as possible in court, and also when you are in the hallways near the courtrooms.
Roll call is held each morning to record the presence of the jurors on the general jury panel. At the end of each day, you will be informed as to the time and place to report on the following day, or call the juror information line.
The first day’s roll call is a bit more involved than on subsequent days. You will be asked to state your name, occupation, and if married, the occupation of your spouse.
The phrase "Voir Dire" literally means, "to speak the truth." In court, it refers to a process of determining whether a juror can serve fairly and impartially in a given case by asking the juror various questions. These questions are designed to let the court learn whether a juror has prior knowledge of the case, is related to or employed by one of the parties in the case, and whether the juror has prejudices and opinions which would make it impossible for him/her to make an impartial decision in the case.
Your name may never be drawn for a trial. There are many factors involved in selecting a jury for a case, and it may be that you are never actually called upon to deliberate a case. It is also possible that you will be selected to deliberate multiple cases. When you check in with the court at roll call on the first day, you become part of a general jury pool.
The selection of jurors is the first step in the actual trial of a jury case and the first step of this selection process is called "voir dire" (a full definition of "voir dire" is given above). The judge will first explain what the case is about in general terms, and state the names of the parties involved, and their attorneys. The judge may then begin questioning the jurors. Some questions will be directed to all the jurors present, and others may be directed to individual jurors. If a prospective juror is not found to be legally qualified to act as a juror, he/she may be excused "for cause," by either the judge or one of the attorneys.
After the conclusion of voir dire, the attorneys have the right to exercise a certain number of "peremptory challenges". This means that the attorney may excuse a juror without having to state a specific reason. Jurors who are challenged and thereby excused from the trial should not be offended, as each attorney has a different idea as to the type of juror that would be most beneficial to the trial of the case. Following all peremptory challenges, the jury selection process is concluded, and the jury is sworn in. Persons excused generally return to the juror’s waiting area where they may be called for selection on another jury.