Trial By Jury

In the United States, there is not much public discourse on the topic of a trial by jury. This absence is unfortunate, because, without it, your fate would be up to the presiding judge alone.

“Jury duty” is maligned in our society. Often, when one hears of someone summoned for jury duty, others say they hope their friend will escape its clutches and be free of it. And often, one seeks and hears advice on various strategies for getting out of jury duty, because of some kind of hardship.

But this is precisely the point. Jury duty is inconvenient at best, and may bring genuine hardship at its worst. Most persons are not paid by their employer for the days they serve on a jury, and often we must cancel appointments, rearrange schedules and find others who can pick up the slack because we are unavailable. Judges clarify that one cannot escape jury duty because it is inconvenient.

Jury duty requires sacrifice, which is unpopular in our “me first” society, where we are addicted to endorphins from the number of “likes” we receive on social media posts of no importance.

California Courts

I recently served on a jury in a three-week civil trial between two local businesses in my small county. The matter: a general contractor built a shop building for an auto repair business, and the auto repair business refused to pay the contractor in full. The conflict was apparently unresolvable and resulted in the jury trial, four years later. All six of us (plus alternates) were highly attentive, and took hundreds of pages of notes through two weeks of testimony by sixteen or more witnesses. When we were finally given the case, we deliberated carefully and thoughtfully to arrive at a fair decision, based upon the facts we were shown.

Thirty years ago, I served on a jury in a capital murder trial that lasted four weeks, and I was elected the jury foreman. I found the facts of the murder tragic and needless, but the legal process I found fascinating. The experience was positive overall, and I would do it again.

I wish jury duty would be seen as an honor instead of a chore. Jury duty is one of the cornerstones of a free society, like voting and military service.


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