Jury Duty in the United States: A Civic Duty?

Why Must You Serve Jury Duty?

To put it succinctly, you serve jury duty because, as a citizen, it is every American's civic duty to respond when they receive the summons. Unfortunately, for most, the response is "Oh no! I have jury duty." That is mainly because it is viewed as an interruption in your normal routine, an obstacle that has been added to your schedule, throwing you temporarily off course. And, to top it off, you have no control over when you are summoned.

Serving on a jury is part of the checks and balances of the American judicial system. Trial by jury is the fairest system of judgment that has been developed so far, designed with the intent of guarding against mistakenly convicting the innocent. In American courts, unlike many other courts, anyone accused of a crime is presumed innocent until they are proven guilty. The prosecutor must prove to the jurors, members of the defendant's community or, in other words the defendant's peers, that the defendant is guilty based on a preponderance of evidence.

While most who are summoned see jury duty as an annoyance, consider the fact that if you are a defendant on trial, you would surely want a jurist with an open and positive mindset rather than a resentful, obstinate one.

Jury duty is a serious and awesome responsibility. The sheer weight of it may be why some hope that they are never called on. I've been called a number of times. The gravity is such that the decision you will be a part of making will sometimes profoundly affect someone's life going forward. You may even be called to serve on a case that involves a life or death decision. Serving is not to be taken lightly.

To paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Conner, jury duty is part of a system that sets us apart from many countries.

How One State Handles Jury Duty

A Short History Lesson on Jury Duty

In America's infancy as an independent country, only white males were allowed to vote and serve on juries. Imagine being a woman or an African American on trial and there are only white males in the jury box. That hardly constituted a trial by peers. The history alone of juries should compel women and African Americans to serve willingly.

Are jurors infallible? By no means. They each bring their own set of values and prejudices into the courtroom. The jurors will each perceive the evidence through their own life filters. Yet, there is no fairer way for establishing guilt or innocence that has been found to date. It is much more preferable that have twelve persons from my community who may look similar to me than just one person, judge or whomever, to determine guilt or innocence.

After responding to your summons, waiting with the other respondents to be called to answer "qualifying" questions from the lawyers can be extremely tedious. However, looking at the service in a contextual light, serving on a jury is ultimately a privilege undertaken with the utmost seriousness. It is an honor which usually means you have been participating in your civic duties in others ways as well, such as being a registered voter.

Some individuals are called often, while others may never get the summons. Each state has its own system for choosing jurors. Some states use the driver's licenses, others use the voter registration roles, still others may have some other system of selection. I was called to jury duty recently (the second time in two years) and spoke with another potential juror who had recently moved to Georgia. The seventy-two year old said that in all of her years living in upstate New York, she had never been called to jury duty and her summons to Georgia jury duty happened after she had only been in the state for two years. She couldn't quite figure it out. Then again, I don't think anyone can really figure out the system.

So, if you receive the summons for jury duty in the mail, respond favorably. While you may consider it an annoyance, just remember, you will want a positive response from a potential juror that might sit in the jurors box if you are ever in the courtroom on either side. Besides, the American jury process is a system to be preserved.

Copyright 2012 Cynthia Turner

Have you ever been called to Jury Duty?

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Comments 27 comments

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spiritglove 4 years ago

In a democratic society, where the power is "supposed" to be derived from the people, the people are the last check in our system of checks and balances.

For instance Grand Juries generally speaking, have omnipotent powers of investigation, and also have the right to submit to the legislature recommendations on how the law should be changed.

Petite juries do not have the same broad powers that a Grand Jury has, however both juries have the right to nullify.

Jury nullification is the power of the people to determine whether the law should be the law, and have the right to trump legislation that is unpopular with the people.

Unfortunately, juries are usually not instructed properly, and the full breadth of their rights are lost.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

I've served once, been rejected once, and got a hardship once. It is an interesting experience for sure.

Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

You are very correct. Juries are not always instructed properly about what can or can't be decided on. For instance, in some cases you can actually find a defendant not guilty because the jury finds the law to be questionable. You are lead to believe you must decide within the strict confines of the law. I was a juror for a case where none of us wanted to find the defendant guilty because the law was so unequally applied. Had the instructions included that particular clause, our decision may not have been as difficult.

Thanks so much for your comment.

Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

Hello Billy, I recently sat the entire day in waiting. At other times, I've had to serve. You are right, it is an interesting experience. Thanks for the comment.

shiningirisheyes profile image

shiningirisheyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

I have done my duty. Although it may not always be convenient, it is my duty and I show up when needed. I have a feeling my time is about due for another.

Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

Hi shiningirisheyes, yes, if we paid attention in civics class we know that serving is our duty so that our system is as fair as possible. If you've served before, you will probably be called again. Thank you so much for taking jury duty seriously and thanks for commenting.

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spiritglove 4 years ago

Cyndi10- Know your rights, if you don't know your rights, you don't have any. If the jury is instructed contrary to the Jury's rights then ignore the instruction. Being civic minded requires that we have the ability to think for ourselves, and determine the truth as the facts present themselves or misrepresent themselves judicially and legislatively. The power belongs to the people, now lets take the power back.

Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

As they say, "knowledge is power." Thanks again.

fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Cyndi.....I sat in on a Grand Jury for 6 all-day sessions in a row. OMG....I'd rather stick needles in my eyes than to ever have to do that again......(.Don't think "official jury duty" in terms of a Trial)

Grand jury duty is...boring, tiresome, uninteresting, droning, one-sided bull....and .OH, I just can't tell you how awful it is.

Just HOPE you never have to do it!......Trial Jury duty, I wouldn't mind at all. In fact, being retired now, I almost wish I'd be summoned.


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

Ewwww! That doesn't sound so good. I've never done Grand Jury and I've actually talked to people who want to sit on the Grand Jury. Never said I wanted to do that, but I won't speak it too loudly. LOL.

Thanks so much for reading and leaving a comment. Take care.

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spiritglove 4 years ago

fpherj48- Honey, if you don't like jury duty, you could always move to Vermont. Vermont is a non-Grand Jury state.

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 4 years ago from Shelton

Cyndi a very good hub.. and kinda different for me.. it seems that everytime I vote four weeks later I get called for jury duty.. I've actually never made it onto a case.. but nonetheless I get called :( or :) Thanks for the share Frank

Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

Hi Frank, Odd, huh? It does feel like it goes along with getting out to vote. Thanks so much for taking the time to read. I always appreciate your comments.

Take care.

rajan jolly profile image

rajan jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

This practice of an ordinary citizen being called in for jury duty is I think a good idea. Unfortunately, we in India do not have it. I do believe it is a priviledge to serve on the jury and one should take this opportunity to do this civic duty happily.

Voted up and interesting.

Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

Hello Rajan, Yes to be judged by a body of our peers is one of our country's founding principles and unfortunately, many forget that this does not exist in other countries. To be honest, the prospect of having one's scheduled interrupted is never thrilling, but the workings of the judicial process is one that can be appreciated on many levels, flaws and all. The privilege lies in the fact that we, the people, have a voice in continually making the system better.

Thanks for reading and voting up. I appreciate it.

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York

You make very good points....everyone complains about jury duty and yet it is the best way to insure a fair trial. I was called twice but never chosen. The first time because I worked for an attorney at the time and no one wanted me on their jury, the second time because the case settled the day it was supposed to go to trial. Nice job Cyndi.

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

Thanks so much for taking a look at this. Yes, we do complain, but it's the best we have and don't think any other system can beat it. Thank you for the votes.

moonlake profile image

moonlake 3 years ago from America

I would have liked to be a jury on Casey Anthony's trial. Nice hub voted up.

Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 3 years ago from Georgia Author

That definitely would have been an interesting one.! Thanks for the vote up!

Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 3 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


I have been called for jury duty only once in my life and that was when I was living in Maryland. I remember arriving at the court early in the morning and sitting around until 1:00 P.M. At that time I was told I wasn't selected by the lawyers to be a member of the jury. As a recall, a young man defendant was on trial for spousal abuse. I can only guess that I was not selected for the jury because of my age (I was in my late 50s at the time) and perhaps looked too conservative to the defendant's lawyer. This is a very interesting hub. Voted up and sharing with followers.

SidKemp profile image

SidKemp 3 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

Thank you for an excellent hub encouraging responsibility. The way some people respond to jury duty, you'd think they'd been charged with a crime, asked to sit in prison, not in the jury box!

Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 3 years ago from Georgia Author

Hi Paul, Thanks for taking a moment to comment. Sometimes we can have accurate guesses of why we're chosen or not. Other times, it's really no rhyme or reason.

I really appreciate the vote and sharing.

Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 3 years ago from Georgia Author

Hi SidKemp, Your observation is so accurate. You really would think they been summoned to jail, not jury duty. Thanks for commenting.

CraftytotheCore profile image

CraftytotheCore 3 years ago

I've been invited to jury duty twice. The first one I made it to the interview between a judge and lawyers but since I worked at a law firm I was dismissed. The second time I went, I had two children to care for and was a single mom. It didn't matter. No hardship for me. But, here's the funny part. I sat there every day as an extra. I never got to actually decide the outcome.

Jury duty actually is quite interesting. A lot of people complain about doing it, but I found it really interesting to hear the testimony. After all, someone's fate is a decision away.

Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 3 years ago from Georgia Author

Hello CraftytotheCore, You are so right about the importance of jury duty. Everybody complains, but the system appears to be fairer than most and it is very interesting to watch the proceedings.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave a comment.

FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

I have never been summoned and would surely have viewed it as a nice break from a busy work schedule since it was required. My mother had to serve several times and got some really good cases.

Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 2 years ago from Georgia Author

Your day may be coming. I was summoned again a month ago! I didn't have to serve but I was close. I had to answer a lot of questions. In the end I wasn't picked. The case looked as if it was one of those that could have lasted a while, maybe more than a week.

I'll see if I get another summons in two years. Take care.

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