Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Jury Duty – Civil Duty

Why is it that we view deliberately avoiding jury service as anything but a truly dishonorable action? Three amendments of the Bill of Rights concern the rights of trial by jury (both grand and petit). Trial by impartial jury is a constitutional right (not trial by peers, incidentally), and one of the few (possibly the only) positive rights in the Constitution. By this I mean that it is a personal right that requires action from others – namely, as the defendant in a criminal trial or a civil trial whose “value in controversy” is over $20 (a large but not huge amount even back then) I have the right to demand that 12 of my fellow citizens sit in judgment of the facts of the case against me, and even of the law or controversy under which I am accused. In federal law, there must have been a grand jury meeting to indict. Amendment 5, 6 & 7 are chock-full of positive rights revolving around juries, witnesses, and counsel.

And yet, people brag about how they “get off” of jury duty. Yes, it’s tedious, can be expensive, and a general pain in the neck. But the jury box is one of the guarantees of freedom from (governmental) oppression. Service as a juror is as important (though not nearly as arduous in mind, body, or soul) as service in the military as far as defense of freedoms go. It’s the last bulwark against an unjust law or unjust agents of government.

You want to make a difference in the judicial system? Make sure that the mutants go to jail and the unjustly accused don’t? That the winner of a civil suit is the more virtuous side? Do your best to serve on a jury, instead of doing your best to avoid it. If you want your peers in the jury pool, that means that you have to serve as a juror for your peers.

I’m not going to propose that “there ought to be a law”. A law requiring virtue is a fools game. But the next time you hear someone boast of “getting out” of jury duty, call them out.

I’ve been called to jury duty twice, served twice; once as an alternate (non-voting) juror. Expect to be called up again in about 2 years, based on what the county jury manager said both times.

2 comments:

  1. I know otherwise civic-minded people who've lost all respect for jury duty because of the farcical jury selection process.

    I still go, and have never tried to get out of it, but knowing that getting called up could mean answering a slew of invasive personal questions and getting ruled out every single time has kind of taken the Good of the Republic glow off of it.

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  2. How do you determine an "impartial" jury? Honestly, that's going to involve a fair amount of probing questions

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Please keep it civil