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Jury Duty in the United States: A Civic Duty?

Updated on February 4, 2018
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Cynthia - a freelance writer and amateur photographer believing in the power of words, the magic of storytelling in poetry, prose or photos.

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. Jurors are responding to evidence that is presented to them and responding to instructions given by the judge on how that evidence may or may not be viewed through the veil of the law.

Each juror bring his or her own set of values and biases 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. This writer has been called multiple times. The fact is that 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.

Have you ever been called to Jury Duty?

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