American Jury Duty

Sane people loathe it. People with too much time on their hands (retirees, the unemployed) welcome the invitation to participate with open arms. Even people who hate their jobs would rather serve on American jury duty than serve their bosses. In any case, American jury duty evokes powerful emotions and at the same time, brings a look of puzzlement to people who pretend to understand the mind numbing process. It all begins with the dreaded postcard that invites you to attend from one day to multiple weeks of madness.

American jury duty is dimply about the justice system’s version of supply and demand. There are too many crooks in the system to match the supply of citizens who have a squeaky clean background. In order to develop the largest potential juror pool, municipal, state, and federal officials scour voting records and other documents that provide current residency information. Officials enter the information into a database, where they pull names out in a manner similar to how lottery officials pull numbers out of a shiny red basket. Nevertheless, you do not win the lottery when the jury supervisor’s office sends you the dreaded postcard. You win hours of acute boredom, a drastic reduction in compensation, and finally, a seat in a courtroom where two legal teams try to sell you on their version of events. You get a crash course in Law 101, even though you intensely abhor attorneys and look at judges with detached contempt.

Americans need a system that employs professional jurors to hear court cases, not ordinary lay people who are ill-equipped to handle the mumble jumble that comes out the mouths of attorneys and judges. If a courtroom is full of professionals, then why must untrained novices assume the most important position in the courtroom? The simple answer is attorneys would lose about half the reason for their existence. Attorneys admittedly spend the bulk of their law school tenure learning how to persuade gullible people such as you and me into buying their brand of lie.

Do you want an unqualified person from a mechanic pool working on your car? Do you want to review a list of candidates from the surgeon pool, none of whom have ever performed surgery? It is the bottom of the ninth inning of game seven of the World Series, and you want an umpire to select a hitter out of the amateur hitting pool? You may laugh, but these scenarios are similar to the way attorneys agree on jury duty candidates. This is the American way, or so teachers told us at a very young age.

Somehow, social studies and political science instructors successfully imbued most American students with the crazy notion that serving on a jury is a cornerstone civic responsibility. I do not remember reading about such a responsibility in the Constitution, or in The Federalist Papers for that matter. Virtually every type of acceptable behavior in a representative republic is clearly delineated in The Federalist Papers, and participating in jury duty glaringly is not on that list. Yet, Americans buy into the myth that serving on jury duty is one of life’s chief obligations.

No, our primary civic responsibility is to conjure up excuses for not serving on jury duty. The ways to eschew jury duty are as varied as the lies told by attorneys. A classic maneuver is to shout “Guilty” when the bailiff brings the accused into the courtroom. Death in the family, advanced pregnancy, and pressing health issues are ways to get out of jury duty. I always use the victim of a violent crime approach. I appeal to the prosecution, but the defense never wants someone who harbors ill will towards criminals. However, you must serve even if you start a new job, or your job takes you out of the country for a lengthy period. Damn your financial hardship; the jury supervisor’s office does not care.

If you lose the judicial lottery and the system selects you to serve, be prepared to serve with eleven other people who base their verdicts on the latest CSI episode. Countless stories from online blogs describe how jurors throughout the country formulate their verdicts and accompanying explanations on how CSI Stokes reaches the culmination of a criminal case. Just examine the logic used by the O J Simpson jury in the immediate aftermath of that laughable verdict. All you need to know about American jury duty can be encapsulated in one caveat: would you want your fate determined by twelve people who are too stupid to get out of American jury duty?