Being an assize juror, a civic obligation
In early July, Aline received a letter from her town hall informing her that she had been pre-selected to be an assize juror in 2023 and asking her to return an administrative information form before September 1. “There was no additional information on what was going to happen next, only the mention that the absence of response was sanctioned by a fine”, says the young liberal nurse. Like her, anyone over the age of 23, of French nationality and registered on the electoral lists can be drawn by lot to be an assize juror. One condition, however, is that you must not only speak but read and write French. Popular juries were set up in 1791. Since that date, jurors, accompanied by professional magistrates, sit during trials for crimes (murder, rape, armed robbery, etc.). They are 6 in number in the Assize Court and 9 in the Court of Appeal.
A three-step process
A first drawing of lots takes place in each municipality, or group of municipalities, on the electoral lists, from which persons who are under 23 years of age during the following calendar year are withdrawn. Following this draw, people are informed that they have been pre-selected to be jurors. The list of designated persons is then communicated to the clerks of the assize courts, one per department, and a special commission refines the list. It withdraws all the people who are unable to be part of a popular jury (people who have committed a crime or misdemeanor, civil servants dismissed from their jobs, people under guardianship or curatorship). Certain functions are also considered incompatible with the mission of jurors: parliamentarians, ministers, police, gendarmerie and prison administration officials. The commission also extracts from the list the people who have already participated in a jury of assizes in the department during the previous 5 years. For each sitting session of the Court of Appeal, a draw is made from the annual list, 35 jurors and 10 alternates are then appointed.
Exemptions are provided
If the vote in France is not compulsory, the participation in a jury of assizes, it is. Anyone summoned to be an assize juror must appear, otherwise they incur a fine of 3,750 euros. However, it is possible to apply for an exemption if you or your child suffer from a serious illness, if you are over 70 or if you are deaf. Don’t worry if you work, your employer has the obligation to allow you to be absent during the session. If you are summoned, however, it is not certain that you will sit. The relatives of the defendants, victims or magistrates cannot be part of the jury, nor the people who participated in the procedure. A session includes several cases, for each a new drawing of lots appoints jurors. The defense lawyer(s) can challenge 4 (5 on appeal), the Advocate General can challenge 3 (4 on appeal).
An assize session lasts an average of fifteen days, judges an average of 9 or 10 cases, and you have to make yourself available for the entire session. Do not panic, financial compensation is provided for meals, travel expenses or hotel. Whether you are an employee or self-employed, you benefit from a daily allowance of 90.56 euros per day. If this indemnity does not cover your loss of income, it can be supplemented by an additional indemnity of 10.57 euros per hour within the limit of eight hours per day. The allowances must be requested (with supporting documents) from the advance management of the court of law or the court of appeal. Be careful, you must in particular justify your loss of income.
A mission that engages
Beyond the material aspects, sitting as a juror (or court of appeal) is an important mission. It is, in fact, up to these men and women to decide, on the basis of their intimate conviction, on the guilt of the accused. To prepare for this, a short training on the functioning of an Assize Court is provided by the President, the Advocate General and a lawyer. In this context, a visit to a prison is often offered. Throughout the hearing, the jurors will have to show great concentration, taking notes is a valuable tool. Jurors must manage their emotions, not express opinions. If the participation in an assize trial is a strong experience, it can have psychological repercussions, because of the violence mentioned. Some assize courts (Pas-de-Calais, Vienne, Marne) have set up psychological support for jurors at the end of the session. No question indeed of pouring out with his relatives, the jurors must keep the secret on the content of the deliberations, even after the announcement of the verdict.