In the United States, two court systems handle most legal disputes. One is the federal court system, which handles legal issues arising under federal law. The other is the system of state courts (a separate system for each state), which handles legal issues arising under state and local law.
The U.S. District Courts are the trial courts in the federal court system. This is where witnesses are called, evidence is presented, and questions of fact may be decided by jurors. The U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals and sometimes the U.S. Supreme Court may review U.S. District Court decisions, but trials are not conducted in these appellate courts.
You may be called to serve as a juror in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. This is the U.S. District Court which serves our region, with locations in downtown Seattle and downtown Tacoma. For more information on jury service in the U.S. District Court, please visit their website.
Like the federal system, the Washington State court system includes both trial and appellate courts. Unlike the federal system, although like systems in many other states, our system includes two types of trial courts. This is reflected in the various courts you may encounter as a juror in King County.
King County Superior Court is the county's court of general jurisdiction. In the criminal arena, it handles most felony matters arising under state law. Felony matters are those which are punishable by a year or more in jail. In the civil arena, it handles most disputes involving more than $75,000 and shares jurisdiction with King County District Court for cases involving lesser amounts. Superior Court also handles most family law and juvenile justice matters.
King County District Court and the various Municipal Courts (e.g., Auburn, Kent, Seattle) are called courts of limited jurisdiction because they are limited in the types of matters they can hear. In the criminal arena, they handle misdemeanor matters arising under state or local law. Misdemeanor matters are those which are punishable by fine (e.g., routine traffic violations) or up to one year in jail. District Court also handles cases in the civil arena, sharing jurisdiction with Superior Court over disputes involving up to $75,000.
The Washington Courts of Appeals and the Washington Supreme Court may review lower court rulings, but like their federal counterparts they do not hear witnesses, receive evidence, or require the assistance of jurors. You may be summoned to appear as a juror in Superior Court, District Court, or the Municipal Court for the city in which you live, but you will not be summoned to serve in an appellate court.
All trial courts in King County need the service of jurors. Each year, more than 30,000 King County residents, selected at random, serve in Superior Court and the Courts of Limited Jurisdiction. While some jurors report modest inconveniences -- the need for time away from work or other pursuits; travel to and from the courthouse; etc. -- nearly all jurors report satisfaction with the process and appreciation for how they are treated. Most report gaining a greater understanding of our legal system and a greater respect for the democratic institution that is trial by jury of one's peers. Nearly all are glad they served.
Washington State Law governs the requirement for jury service. RCW 2.36.170 makes it a crime for any person summoned for jury service to intentionally fail to appear as directed. Despite this harsh sounding mandate, most courts go to great lengths to show their appreciation for the citizens who serve and to make each juror's service as comfortable and enriching as possible. If you receive a jury summons, please accept the obligation it imposes. You will be glad that you did.
For more information on jury service in King County, please visit the following websites:
King County Courts
This page is sponsored by the King County Trial Court Coordinating Council. For more information on this organization, please visit the attached webpage.