October 16, 2018


I thought jury duty was for suckers -- until I helped save an innocent man from conviction (Paula Carter, Oct. 16, 2018, USA Today)

The night before I had jury duty, I contemplated searching online for tips on how to get out of it. I knew from pop culture that this was the thing to do.

In "30 Rock," Liz Lemon dresses up like Princess Leia when called to serve so she will seem insane and be dismissed. In Milton Bradley's The Game of Life, if you land on jury duty, you lose a turn. Without any reflection, I had come to believe that jury duty was a pain and something most people tried to avoid. It was for suckers.

Then I served on a jury, and my perspective changed.

A quick search on social media for #voting reveals threads about the importance of voting, while searching #juryduty returns posts about the joys of being released from jury duty. As the midterm elections approach, voting is the civic responsibility capturing everyone's attention and admiration. But jury duty is characterized as something to be avoided at all costs. How is it that we have come to see these two ways of participating in government so differently?

The right to a trial by jury, one of the most time-honored inheritances from Magna Carta in United States law, refers to the guarantee that courts will depend on a body of citizens to render judgments in most civil and criminal cases. The origins of the jury trial precede the creation of Magna Carta. However, Chapter 39 of King John's Magna Carta includes the guarantee that no free man may suffer punishment without "the lawful judgment of his peers." By this measure the barons sought to force the king to delegate part of his judicial authority to men who were peers of the individual on trial. While Magna Carta did not institute the jury system in the modern sense, its political intent--to prevent the king's domination of the courts--inspired later generations to view the right to a trial by jury as one of the basic safeguards of freedom from arbitrary government.

Eighteenth-century Americans viewed the right to a jury trial as one of the essential liberties of a free country. They saw the jury as an independent deliberative body that could refuse to cooperate with an unjust court or law. 

Posted by at October 16, 2018 4:26 AM