Justice Denied

Scale

How often have you heard someone decry the fact that they have jury duty? I can think of half a dozen times in the last year where people have complained about their civic duty. I can’t think of one time – ever – that someone has been happy about getting jury duty.

It’s crazy. These same people would want the best minds on their trial, but somehow have a disconnect about the need for them to show up and take part in the process. It’s become a past time to complain about having to participate in one of the most important thing we do as citizens (let’s not even talk about voting). Why do so many people have such a negative opinion of jury duty?

For the most part people just think they’re too good to do it. They’re under the impression that the world will grind to a halt if they don’t show up for work. It’s a self-important way to view your contribution to the world: That somehow things just won’t get done if you’re not there to do them.

Well, in a way it’s true. If you don’t show up to court and try to give the best you know how for someone who’s facing trial things are definitely not getting done. You are definitely failing the person who’s facing civil or criminal charges.

There’s an old saying about trials being decided by 12 people not smart enough to get out of jury duty. What a shitty way to look at it. How much do you have to think of yourself – and how little do you think of anyone else – when you parrot those ideas? Do you really think you’re too important, smart or valuable to participate in the effective governing of this country? No, no, really, you are that special.

It’s a privilege to be on a jury. It’s one of the defining measures of our democracy that we all get to participate. Some would have a system of professional jurors replace a jury of our peers. What a staggeringly bad idea. Professional jurors would bring their prejudices with them to each and every trial. Part of what makes our system work is that there is a new group – new eyes, as it were – to judge the facts for every case. Professional jurors would run the risk of having seen so many similar cases that there would be a rush to judgment amongst some groups. Being a juror would be something to aspire to for a long-term career path, and as such, potential jurors would be tempted to rule to favor whomever it is that hands out those jobs.

You would see pools of jurors conforming to the wishes of the people who held power over their careers. The toadying and ass-kissing you see in a regular office would exist in court, only the consequences would hold so much more weight. It could literally mean the difference between freedom and imprisonment or possible financial ruin.

Professional jurors would open the door to corruption, as lawyers and defendants could potentially target jurors to affect the outcome of a case. It is a certainty that if there were professional jurors that within a year you would have a case of a juror accepting payoffs for a favorable ruling.

Avoiding jury duty is so prevalent that Wikihow even has a popular page called ‘How to get out of jury duty,’ that outlines 8 steps to take to avoid your civil duty. The suggestions range from lying about hardships and pretending to be stupid to saying you have your mind already made up. Shame on Wikihow for having this page, and shame on anyone for using it.

The people I know who try to avoid jury duty doubtless don’t question their ethics when they lie to get out of it. They think it’s a social norm, and do what others are doing. They feel a greater need to take care of themselves than they do to be a good citizen who participates in the democratic process.

For all the chest beating we do about American exceptionalism, we certainly disdain the things which supposedly differentiate us from less free societies. We don’t want to participate, but by God that’s what makes us great. Or something.

So, forgive me if I don’t give you a pass and say it’s cool to lie your way out of your responsibility as a citizen. Understand that I don’t think you’re special and the world can’t get along without you while you do your civic duty. No, it’s not beneath you to participate in representative democracy.

I have often thought that karmic justice would be served if the people who actively avoid jury duty needed the remedy of the courts and the only people to hear their case were a dozen people as apathetic and disingenuous as they were when called to serve their country.

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