Gastonia, NC Correspondent– I was recently called for jury duty, and saw up close that the entire concept of “a jury of your peers” is a complete farce in today’s society. At age 48, I was the youngest person seated for the jury in the trail of a young man in his early 20s accused of a drug offense. Most of those on the jury were white and at least middle class, while the defendant obviously came from meager circumstances. Thanks to having lived very close to the bone in my youth, I felt I had a bit of an understanding of his life, but surely not enough to be a truly good juror.
That said, we considered the evidence given in the case (the police did a horrible job of putting their case together) and found the young man not guilty. On the face of it, we would have appeared just the group to send this defendant to jail, yet we didn’t. That tells me that, at least in this instance, the system still works. I get called for jury duty every two or three years, and while it is an inconvenience, I accept it as one of the prices of living in our society. Whining about jury duty is fashionable and funny, but to me it’s unpatriotic in the extreme. Do your duty!
Owatonna, MN Correspondent-During the forty-plus years of my life and my wife’s life that we’ve been eligible for jury duty, I have never been summoned, and my wife has been summoned only once. She was excused after the first day of interviews. Very few of my friends or acquaintances have mentioned they’ve been called for jury duty either. Therefore, from a personal standpoint, I don’t see a problem with jury duty being an undue burden. I concede that my experience is not representative of everyone, and significant problems may exist in other areas of the country.
I agree that there seems to be an increasing number of civil trials because lawyers are one of the most influential special-interest groups when it comes to passing laws at all levels of government. It’s in a lawyer’s best interest to have numerous and complex laws so more and more citizens will be compelled to pay for legal services. If a problem exists regarding too many trials, the better solution would be to eliminate as many laws as possible that are no longer relevant or exist only to give an unfair advantage to one entity over another. We could also enact laws that discourage frivolous lawsuits that are only used to delay some negative consequence (such as an insurance company suing a business to avoid paying death benefits in a wrongful death situation). A secondary solution that would require a massive hiring of judges is to reclassify crimes and lawsuits that call for a jury trial to trials that are decided by a judge only.
To the second question: Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines a peer as “one belonging to the same societal group especially based on age, grade, or status.” Using this broad definition, it is possible to get a jury of your peers. Getting a jury that is made up of exactly similar peers (ex: white, middle-aged, middle-class, college educated, suburbanite) will undoubtedly be more difficult. That’s because both sides want juries that can be persuaded to believe their client. But that conflict is always resolved because both sides may excuse a certain number of potential jurors during jury selection. Unless a trial takes place in a small jurisdiction where everyone shares identical backgrounds, race, ideology, education, and socioeconomic status, no jury will ever be ideal for a defendant.
Sheffield, Jamaica Correspondent-I’ve always questioned the justice system, specifically the jury duty aspect of things. I get it, the jury system has its place in society. But, isn’t it time for us to move away from that type of assessment and install more qualified, permanent personnel to deal with rendering verdicts? My golly! That would save private citizens a great deal of headache.
Private citizens do have busy lives to live. To supplement, some private citizens, like myself, cannot perform jury duties because of my creed system. It would be frustrating for someone like me to write and ask to be exempt or excused. Plus, if I’m called for jury duty and miss those, I could be in deep waters.
Give private citizens a break. A better alternative would be to get qualified individuals to fill that gap. With the increase in court cases for civil and criminal trials, these individuals would be ideal to sit permanently on cases with a salary.
I think the system does everything to not pay out. That’s how I view jury duty. It’s a cunning way for the system to get people to cast judgements without paying little or nothing.
If the panel is switched and jurors are made permanent, it would likely be impossible for court sessions to have jury of peers. Nonetheless, that would not affect the effectiveness of the jury to do their job and judge fairly and based on evidence.
Myrtle Beach, SC Correspondent-To start let me say our criminal justice system needs reformed…immediately. If we reformed the system we would drastically reduce the need for juries. Now, that being said onto the question at hand.
I’ve never been picked or called for jury duty, but I’m one of those odd people who has an interest in the legal system so I would love it. That being said, I run my own business doing Social Media Management so if I was picked for a jury that had to be sequestered it would GREATLY hurt my business, I wouldn’t be able to work. I also know employers sometimes require people to take vacation days or sick days to cover an employee who is out of work for jury duty or they forego their regular pay. Picture someone who makes $15 an hour, if they miss one day that’s $120 (pre tax); if they have to miss work (with no pay from their employer) they loose $80. And, That only one day! Imagine if they miss two or three! So, the answer is: Yes, Jury duty DOES put an undue burden on citizens. But, it’s still a duty.
As far as finding a jury of your peers, I think that’s an obvious no. You can find people of similar education, socio-economic status, biases, age, etc. But does that REALLY mean they are your peers? Probably not.
Cartwright-I think the number of cases that need to be heard before a jury is, in fact, creating a lot of undue burdens on ordinary people being called for jury duty. We each have a civic duty to serve on a jury when called. That’s part of being an American citizen. It is no secret, however, that more and more people are being arrested for crimes and having trials before a jury and more and more people are involved in civil lawsuits that need to be heard before a jury. The court dockets are full and overloaded and most of these cases have a right to be presented to a jury who will decide the outcome.
For the average working American, jury duty places a strain on them. They lose days of work and may be forced to take vacation days so as not to lose out on their pay. Then, they may not be able to take their vacation. If you are a small business owner, serving on a jury can negatively impact your business. The system creates unintended consequences for some ordinary folks, and quite honestly, people find the need to go to the courthouse and sit each day only to be dismissed if they’re not selected for a jury quite a hassle. But, this is the price we pay for being Americans and it is a small inconvenience for the very few times we are called upon to serve. I understand some folks’ frustrations, but they just have to get over it. Suck it up, go do your civic duty, and move on.
The second part of the question is one that I have talked about before. I do think that it is very difficult to find a jury of one’s peers due to differences in education, background, income, etc. If you’re a twenty-something accused of drunk driving or a drug offense and you’re facing a jury of twelve men and women who are much older, many retired, who have a different set of values and religious beliefs, are they really your peers? You may both be residents of the same state, county, or city, but I think there is an argument to be made that they may not be your peers. If you’re an affluent member of society and your jury is comprised of minimum wage workers, the unemployed, or low skilled or minimally educated individuals, are you going to wonder if the jury is actually a jury of your peers? Quite possibly.
At the end of the day, I think the system works just fine. There are thousands of cases heard each week throughout the country with juries involving twelve strangers who have been selected by the attorneys in each case…attorneys for both the prosecution or plaintiff and defendant. Both sides have to present their case, and all twelve members of the jury have to deliberate the evidence of the case to arrive at a decision. To think that all twelve jurors, twelve people who don’t know each other, are going to conspire to reach a verdict based some personal difference between them and one of the parties to the case is a bit absurd. I think that jurors take their responsibility seriously and check their emotions, prejudices, biases, etc. at the door of the jury room. While on the surface it make seem like a jury is not one of your peers, there’s nothing to suggest that the jury who renders a verdict has been prejudiced by differences in educations, social status, work, race, background, religion or any other factor.