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Why Jury Duty?

Updated on April 19, 2017

We All Hate It —And We Shouldn't

You check your mail, and you've received the dreaded notice that you have been called for jury duty. Ugh! Most of the time, you can't get out of it, and you have to drive, and park, and suffer endless waiting to be called, and the coffee in the vending machines is both expensive and disgusting. I completely agree with you; but you should be glad that you were called!

Jury duty, along with voting, is our chance to make our voices heard. Among many other things, jury duty ensures that we ordinary people can keep prosecutors on their toes. Otherwise, our criminal justice system would devolve into kangaroo courts, with little to no evidence being presented by the prosecution, a lackluster defense, and incarceration (and possibly execution) a foregone conclusion.

To serve on a jury is a right; one that was denied to women and people of color until very recently. It is the only right that is enshrined both in the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights.

People Waiting to be Called for Jury Duty
People Waiting to be Called for Jury Duty | Source

Have you tried ever to avoid jury service?

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Why the Typical Excuses are Invalid

  • I have already done my duty by voting/paying taxes/serving in the military
  • Jury duty is conscription
  • I can't afford to take time off work, get a babysitter, etc.
  • The legal system is corrupt/a joke

Yes, these all sound like great excuses, but they aren't. Here's why:

  • It's possible to have more than one duty to your country
  • Jury duty is not conscription; conscription specifically refers to involuntary military service. Rarely do you put your life at risk for an extended period because you have to go to the courthouse.
  • If jurors were to be paid fairly, your local taxes would have to be raised. Are you willing to do this? If so, let your local legislators know, because if everyone paid their fair share, you would at least get reasonable compensation for your jury duty at a minimal cost. If you were the defendant at a trial, would you want to be judged by "people too stupid to get out of jury duty" or by busy, financially-stressed people just like you?
  • If the legal system is corrupt, this is your very best chance to change it to a more fair system!

The "Tips and Tricks" for being Excused from Jury Duty and Why They Won't Work

Attorneys are not stupid. Neither are judges. They recognize when someone has a bad attitude toward jury service. If the judge thinks you are deliberately trying to get out of jury service, she or he can hold you in contempt of court. You can be fined or jailed. If you think jury service was a hassle, you haven't seen anything yet. If the judge or attorney thinks you are lying, you can also be found in contempt of court. With the advent of shows such as Lie to Me, attorneys and judges are more aware than ever of "tells" that indicate you are lying. So please, don't do this.

If you really have a legitimate excuse (a full-time college student, seriously ill or contagious, disabled, caretaker of an infant or disabled person), there are ways to responsibly postpone your service date or be excused from jury service during voir dire.

Jury Nullification, the Right Way

If you truly believe that a law is unjust or unfair, you can refuse to find someone guilty even if the evidence is clear that the defendant committed a crime. For example, you may find that the punishment for some drug law is overly harsh.

All the "get out of jury duty" websites will tell you to mention jury nullification during voir dire, so that you will be excused. However, if you are determined to do this, at least do it the right way by educating the other people in the jury pool. You can say, "I feel this law is unfair and unjust, and therefore even if there is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty, I would vote for a verdict of not guilty, as is my right." This will let the other potential jurors know that they have that right, too.

Stupid Juror Tricks

The lengths people will go to in order to get out of jury duty are really amazing.

Not registering to vote: So in order to avoid the right to serve on a jury, you give up your right to vote. Really smart (not). In any case, most counties are now using the driver license or utility databases, so you might as well register to vote and exercise that right!

So Why Jury Service?

  • It is the most political power that any one of us can ever have; instead of having one vote among thousands, or even millions, your vote is one of six or one of twelve. In addition, you have the power in the jury room to persuade others.
  • It is one of the few protections we can exercise individually against government abuse and tyranny. With jury nullification, we can refuse to uphold unjust laws. We can prevent the court system from becoming a sham by ensuring that the prosecution has adequate evidence both that a crime was committed, and that the defendant committed the crime in question. In addition, we can see to it that each defendant has an adequate defense, by refusing to convict if the defending attorney did not do her or his job.

Making Jury Service More Tolerable

Sometimes waiting is the hardest part. However, there are many things you can do to pass the time and make the wait a bit better.

Carpool with a friend. I'm not suggesting that you and a friend are going to be called up together. But if you find a friend going in the direction of the courthouse on that day, you could be saved aggravation and expense. You can always go to lunch or dinner together afterwards.

Bring something to occupy you. A book, a game on your phone, work, or anything that will pass the time will help the hours that you spend waiting to be called.

Bring lunch and drinks. Even if you have to leave them in the car and go outside to get them, anything at all is better than vending-machine coffee at the courthouse. Some jurisdictions will let you bring food and drink in if you're careful.

Get to know those sitting around you. You might make a new friend or meet a new customer!

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