By Joseph Snook
“Oh no… I couldn’t have possibly known I was selected for jury duty; I’ve been out of town!”
Similar excuses may have worked while telling a teacher your homework was incomplete – years ago. However, in a court of law, such excuses are limited. The anticipation of becoming a Juror is abhorred by most, for whatever possible reason, and there are many. The moment that letter is received, informing you of the special date to appear, you start searching for the perfect reason to excuse yourself, “I’ll do almost anything to avoid jury duty…”
Should that be your response?
Is there an automatic assumption of guilt when someone has been charged with a crime? Are jurors not adequately compensated? Set aside the list of excuses to avoid jury duty, put yourself in the shoes of the person relying on your service, and talk about it.
Consider this; you are the defendant, and you are innocent (which ALL defendants are “presumed” to be). You are the 3-5% of those criminally charged in the U.S. willing to roll the dice at trial. You are relying on the professionalism and strategy of your attorney. You are also up against a government that has no limit to its reach. Unlimited funds are being used to gather evidence against you – even if the evidence is questionable, or, false. Sharp looking experts with astonishing credentials and resumes are lining up for the prosecution to bolster the charges leveled against you. The media has already published your name, photograph, and the crimes you have been charged with, and seemingly more often, they’ve added a blurb from someone in uniform that purports guilt. The published photograph is usually an unfavorable mug shot. There’s a police report published, claiming there is FACTUALLY a victim. Still, after all of the pressure by government and media implying guilt, you believe the evidence will prove opposite. You refuse to accept that a juror will believe a person wearing a badge instead of you, your attorney, or the evidence. Despite how optimistic you feel about your case, you know being convicted is possible.
Citizen and police video on social media, exonerations of people falsely convicted, egregious mandatory minimum sentencing, discovery of faulty forensic science, and films such as “Making a Murderer,” have undoubtedly fueled public scrutiny over the tactics used by law enforcement at all levels. These important issues, in part, have contributed toward the National push toward Criminal Justice Reform.
Could this be your calling, to help stop a wrongful conviction? Or, is this your chance to help lock away a dangerous criminal?
A juror is potential relief from an abusive government, a vexatious litigant, or, a fictitious victim. Jurors also convict. Serving as a juror should not be a burden, it should reinforce the belief that justice is being served, regardless of the verdict. Being a Juror is one of the most important responsibilities ever bestowed upon an individual – Juror’s hold someone’s life in their hands. Some day it could very well be your life in question, including the life of those who depend on you, and for that reason alone, you should re-think jury duty.
Who would you want to be your juror? By answering this, you may have just found the reason to stop making excuses. And for those of you who take this duty serious; salute!
This article is part of a series on juries in the United States. Our next piece in this series will talk about modern juries and important concerns they should have, but often may not consider. Are juries today different from those not so long ago? Has the role of a juror been impeded?