By Mark David Blum, Esq.
Why do people cringe when they are notified of jury duty? I have yet to understand what people fear or despise about jury duty. In all my years facing juries, two things are true. First, the process of jury selection is a boring time sponge that drags on and on and nobody likes. Second, those having served on a jury always comment on how fascinating of an experience they had. Jury duty is a civic duty owed by everybody. Jury duty is also a pain in the butt; unless you are selected as juror.
My missus was recently summoned for jury duty. She hemmed and hawed and yapped on endlessly about what an inconvenience it would be. I told her it was her duty and she owed it because without her and the millions who went before her and after, our system would not work. Without juries, we wouldnít have the benefit of a trial by peers. If not for the misery suffered by the milieu tapped for duty, the right to a jury trial would disappear.
One thing I know for certain is that jury selection is not a personal insult. One guy was forced to apologize in writing after berating the system for daring to call him to serve. My missus was not so brazen and went begrudgingly forward to her duty.
To me jury duty is a real civic duty. That duty is neither intended inconvenience nor a personal moment of punishment. Our entire system would crash if not for the honor and compliance of all able bodied citizens. Like all who would grab a weapon to defend against a foreign invader, jury duty is the civil equivalent whereby all able bodied citizens stand that wall and defend against encroachment by the sovereign. It should be an honor to stand that wall. The duty is one from which none should shirk.
It wasnít easy to get my missus to go downtown. When she called in, she made the cut by one. One number higher and she could have stayed home. Instead, she had to report downtown for disbursement to one of the many skirmishes scheduled for trial. She missed the Ott trial by luck of the draw but did find her way into the pool for a wrongful death civil case.
I think it would have been a great experience for her to have served on a jury. Every juror with whom I have spoken after a trial has told me that the experience was fascinating. This opinion was true regardless of the outcome and regardless of how angry they may have been one with the other. It is an enormous responsibility to have someoneís life or fortune in your hands. I am sure it was quite a learning experience for every one of them. For this reason, I kept encouraging my missus and telling her how much fun she would have.
It was no surprise when my missus was not selected to be a trial juror. She was identified by the lawyers instantly as being the wife of a lawyer. Five questions later and she was dismissed by the attorneys. That process took a day and a half. The case sounded interesting and since both lawyers are friends, I wish them both luck. My missus now gets an eight year reprieve.
The importance of the jury system and why people should not shy away therefrom was well expressed this past week by local County Court Judge Anthony Aloi. In a trial for manslaughter, the jury found for the defense apparently believing the claims of self defense. That decision has to be sacrosanct. Yes juries are sometimes wrong but that usually occurs when the evidence is wrong such as a wrongful identification or failure to do a DNA test. In the normal course of business, we the People have to believe that every trial jury did an honorable job in sorting through the facts in context of the law. The parents of the deceased publicly criticized the jury for its decision. Judge Aloi rightfully took exception to that criticism because the jury looked at the evidence and did so in debate amongst themselves. We have to trust that juries reach the right decisions or we donít have a system in which we can put our faith.
I will always recall the one tale told me by a prospective juror who was commenting on her experience as a juror in another case upon which she sat ten years previous. She looked me in the eye and said that her verdict and decision in that case haunted her to this day. Apparently she knew then she was making the wrong decision and did so anyway. I did not probe too far and I donít know what kind of case or what was her actual verdict. What I can tell from the experience and seeing in her eyes is just how real this whole experience can be. Jurors may not always be right but they try real hard to get it right. Notwithstanding all the jokes made about jurors being unable to get out of jury duty, collectively a jury is quite smart in its collective pursuit to uphold the law and investigate the facts. Ten years later and the woman is still haunted. Res ipsa loquitor.
Whatever should befall us and become our inconvenience because of a jury duty summons is the price we pay for a free society. Jury duty is like any public service; miserable, stanky, and boring. The courts do try very hard to make jury service as pleasant as possible and are to be commended for their efforts. At the same time, jury duty should be a welcomed chore and exercised with the utmost respect.