WhY YOU SHOULD NEVER TRY
TO GET OUT OF JURY DUTY
by Joelle Steele
While you may think that jury duty is just a nuisance and inconvenience, it is far more important than you can imagine. It is not only a civic duty, it is a privilege to serve on a jury. And your presence on a jury panel can make an enormous difference in the lives of many people. Every citizen should at least try to serve when called. Here's why:
I'll begin with my own story. I sued a utility company for major injuries I suffered when one of their drivers rear-ended me with his truck into another truck owned by the same company. That was in 1980, and I still have chronic pain and other problems, including ongoing medical bills, as a result of that accident. When my case went to trial four years later, I looked okay even though I wasn't.
Watching the jury selection process was an eye-opener. Out of twelve jurors and two alternates, five were unemployed laborers, three were housewives, two were retired seniors. Only three had college degrees. My attorneys were concerned that this jury would have difficulty understanding the medical complexities, and they were right. I won enough to pay my then-current medical bills and attorneys fees. When the jurors were asked how they arrived at their decision, six admitted they had a difficult time following the technicalities of the case.
I have since sat on a variety of juries. I have even been a foreperson. The deliberation was confusing each time when you consider that most of the juries were composed of people who had nowhere else to go. They were almost entirely unemployed or retired people, high school education only, and none of them wanted to be there. But I did, and I take the responsibility very seriously. A more educated jury could have made all the difference in the quality of my life as it is right now, all these years later.
Everyone has a right to a fair trial by a jury of their peers. It is not the judge, but rather the jury that makes the ultimate decision, the verdict, based on the evidence that is presented to them. They must listen to the attorneys and witnesses, experts, and the judge. They must then follow the judge's instructions and weigh all the information and determine guilt or innocence, damages to be awarded, etc. Jurors do not need any knowledge of the law, but they do need to be alert and sufficiently educated to follow the evidence. Most trials last only a day, but some may be longer. The anticipated length is always discussed during jury selection so that you can explain to the judge any reason why you cannot sit on a long, drawn-out case.
Avoiding jury duty should be a crime in and of itself, because lack of good jurors makes it almost impossible for a court to function as the means of administering that ever-important "justice for all." The next time you hear about a jury awarding some outrageous amount of money to someone for a minor mishap or you hear that a career criminal got off with a mere slap on the wrist, think about who made those decisions. Would you want them sitting on a jury in your trial? Stop making excuses and shirking your civic duty to your fellow citizens. When you get the summons, do your jury duty. Do it to the best of your ability and do it happily with the knowledge that you are personally responsible for making the system work.