- Politics and Social Issues
Should the Government be Allowed to Force us into Jury Duty?
Called to Serve
Recently I was summoned to serve on the jury in superior court thirty miles away from my home. It happens every year or two lately, and usually I just ignore them. I had responded to one many years ago when I was very politically active and told them I was a political aggravant. They didn't try to get me to do jury duty again for some twenty years. While I was going through cancer treatments eight years ago, I told them it would be unlikely I would ever be able to serve.
Still, the summons kept coming after that and I kept ignoring them. Whatever possessed me to respond this time is beyond me, but I did. I went online and filled out the form telling them I couldn't serve due to medical reasons, and I listed some of the reasons. They promptly sent me a letter via snail-mail informing me my excuse was denied and that I needed to respond with a doctor's release, or something of that nature.
Maybe I was over-reacting by feeling violated, but that was only my initial emotion. The anger swiftly came next.
I flat out refused to go to that kind of trouble to prove to the government I couldn't bow down to their whim. What year and country was I living in? 1930's Soviet Russia? Were they going to send the Gestapo after me for not sending them a doctor's note by the 12th of January? Don't we have enough government breathing down our necks about everything enough as it is? Now they're going to make me drive my worn out car thirty miles every day for as long as they see necessary for $12 per day plus .44 cents in mileage? They don't give a single rat turd what might be going on in my life that this jury summons thing could exacerbate. They don't give a monkey's uncle that it takes about a month to schedule an appointment with certain doctors, and that I had just seen my pain management doctor last week.
I immediately started stressing about what my punishment for refusing them would be. I got on the Internet and started investigating it. I wasn't super surprised to find out what the punishments were for skipping out on jury duty, but I was definitely infuriated by it.
The Reasons for a Jury
Everyone over the age of eighteen will be called to serve on the jury at least once, if not every year or two for most of their natural lives. For those who haven't, it's only a matter of time. It's nearly impossible to get off their radar if you vote or have a driver's license/ID. Though many of us dread this calling and try just about anything to get out of doing it, there are some who find it interesting, and often times a fun way to get out of work for a while.
Those who believe in the judicial system claim it's every citizen's responsibility to serve when called to maintain a democratic system. They believe it is more fair and just to have a non-partial, lay-person judging the evidence against the accused. They believe that if the decision were up to a single person's interpretation; a judge, for instance, unfair bias could occur and the accused could be wrongfully imprisoned. What's missing from this ideology is the fact that the accused can choose to have a judge decide his/her case without a jury present and in some instances, a judge can even over-turn a jury's judgement (https://www.quora.com/Can-a-judge-disregard-a-jurys-verdict). These two things alone make a jury seem pretty inconsequential. Add to the fact that the law says the accused is entitled to a jury of his/her peers, yet doesn't adequately define what, or whom a peer is, makes a jury seem more unfair to me than if a person, or persons, who was trained in the law were making the decision. They're also forgetting that people get convicted of crimes who were later found innocent; about 4.1 percent among those sentenced to death (http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2014/04/28/how-many-people-are-wrongly-convicted-researchers-do-the-math/).
I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for what our forefathers accomplished in creating the Constitution, and I understand where they were coming from when they created the 6th amendment. Back in their day, jurors were most likely white, educated, protestant males who were primarily judging other white, protestant males (educated or not). Beliefs and cultures weren't nearly as mixed as they are today, and I can only imagine things were far simpler in most cases. Personally, If I were facing serious charges and my fate was going to be determined by a bunch of lay-persons who knew nothing about me or what they were doing, I'd be very concerned. Vice versa, I'd be very worried about having that same responsibility put on me if I were determining the fate of someone else.
The only real perk I can see with being a juror in this day and age is it's the only time in an average person's life where he/she holds more power than the judge presiding over the case (congratulations if you already know about jury nullification; you'll never serve on a jury again if you don't want to), but how often would an issue such as disregarding a law present itself during a trial (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/21/opinion/jurors-can-say-no.html)? Could a jury some day decide that murder is a justifiable crime?
I'm not saying the jury system should be completely abandoned, but it's antiquated and definitely shouldn't be implemented in the manner in which they impose it on us.
No Constitutional Obligation
Here's where it gets dicey. There is no Constitutional law, amendment, or article that I could find that states a citizen has a moral, legal, or civic responsibility to serve on a jury. The fifth and sixth amendments only state that a citizen is entitled to a trial by jury, but even that isn't clearly defined. Apparently there are state laws that dictate jury duty, but Constitutional laws trump state laws, especially when civil liberties or other Constitutional protections are threatened (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lesley-daunt/state-vs-federal-law-who-_b_4676579.html).
The Declaration of Independence boldly states that every citizen has an unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (http://www.ushistory.org/Declaration/document/). Although many of our government's restrictions and impositions could be construed as violating these most basic of rights, and though the supreme court tries not to recognize the DOI's authority as the first law of the land, the Constitution states similar protections as far as the government's interference in it's citizens freedoms. This includes protection from a police state in which unjustified warrants can be placed against us (see the 4th amendment).
Serving on a jury can take days, weeks, months and even years out of a person's life. The rate of pay isn't enough to support a family of one in the 1920's, and the stress and possible trauma (depending on what you might be shown or forced to listen to), could have a lasting impact that could devastate a person's life forever (http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/12/health/jury-stress-ptsd/index.html). And what happens to the people who refuse to serve jury duty? A bench warrant, a heavy fine, imprisonment; all have been known to happen. An outstanding member of the community who pays their taxes and has never committed any crimes, violent or otherwise, instantly transforms into a "bad citizen" and/or criminal simply by standing up for their rights. If this isn't a form of government tyranny and oppression, nothing is. There's something seriously wrong with this picture, yet many people will simply go along with it without question using words such as "civic duty" and "community responsibility." Maybe these words comfort them enough to make them feel as though they're a volunteer. If someone wants to volunteer for civic duty, that's great! No one's going to stop them from doing it. For those who don't want to do it, it shouldn't be forced on them, period.
Threatening, forcing, and criminalizing those who don't want to serve is simply wrong no matter what reason the person has for not wanting to serve. There are plenty of people in the country who enjoy serving and have the means to do so. If I were healthy and retired, I would very much enjoy doing it. If it paid a worth while salary, more people wouldn't have a problem with it. Assistant district attorneys can make up to $90,000 per year, and judges can make two or three times that. These are socialized positions in the civil sector, yet jurors can count on bringing in maybe $5-14 per day. This could cause great financial hardship to most average Americans if the trial lasts more than a couple of days.
The Selective Service is the exact same thing. Even though there is no longer a draft, our male citizens are still required to register and can be drafted if it's reinstated in as little as three months (http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/story?id=875907). Even though there are a lot of men and women who volunteer for military service and get paid to do so, the rest of us could still be forced to kill people if our government says we have to.
Both of these implemented systems skim around the rights our forefathers created to protect us. They also wrote clauses that give us permission to change and revamp the government if they try to supersede the rights we've been given or if they appear to be getting out of control. unfortunately the Supreme court has decided to ignore these clauses on many occasions.
So many of our rights are being stripped away from us one law at a time, and too many people seem to be okay with that. Maybe they're the ones who should volunteer for service and not get so agitated and threatened that no one else wants to do it. Better yet, maybe they should turn their agitation in the direction of the oppressors and stand up for themselves rather than nodding their little heads and saying "yes please" every time a piece of their freedom is chiseled away.
It doesn't seem like a very difficult situation to understand: A citizen's Freedom and Liberty end when a government forces that citizen to do anything against their will, period. It doesn't matter if it's once a year or every day, it's still taking away that citizen's right to their livelihood, and it's still interfering in the citizens right to pursuit their happiness. It takes away their right of choice, and puts them in a position not unlike someone who's been convicted of a crime and has their civil rights stripped from them. The only difference here is it's done without probable cause, without trial (with or without a jury), and it goes against our Constitutional rights making it downright illegal. I'd say that's worth getting angry about.
A Civic Duty
Is it acceptable for the government to force jury duty on us?
© 2016 Krista D'Ambroso