Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tuesday Tirade ... And Justice For None

I had jury duty yesterday. I didn't want to go, but I did. I didn't meet any of the conditions for WHY they should excuse me, and, well, apparently getting people to show up for JD in Travis county is hard because they've started issuing arrest warrants for no-shows. So I went.

Don't get me wrong. I think jury duty is genuinely important, one of the responsibilities of liberty. It is one of the few opportunities for people who are not lawyers or politicians to be involved in the legal process in this country. I don't believe in summary judgment or that any one person has the right to determine the guilt or innocence of another--too easy to abuse such a system--think dictators and police states! The right to a trial by a jury of our peers is important. Or at least, it should be.

My father always says he would ask the court to decide were he ever in criminal trouble. I asked him why. He told me, "I don't want my fate in the hands of twelve people too stupid to get out of jury duty."

image shamelessly borrowed from potbust.com (one of the coolest I found googling "Justice images")

Yea, makes ya all warm and fuzzy inside, don't it?

It's sad, but that seems to be the attitude of many. In the weeks leading up to my jury duty I had people tell me all kinds of opinions about it. Things like (and I wish I was kidding):
  • Let people on welfare do jury duty, they're already getting paid by the state.
  • Lie and get out of it, that's what everyone else does.
  • What a waste of time!

Maybe it's the last vestige of the 8th-grader-who-wanted-to-be-a-lawyer-when-she-grew-up in me, but this response bugged the hell out of me. If I were wrongfully accused of a crime, I want a trial in front of intelligent, hard working people. The problem is intelligent hard-working people don't want to be on juries.

Let's address my number one reason for not wanting to go: If Mama don't go to work, Mama don't get paid.

In a short 2-4 day trial that is an inconvenience, for me, but not a tragedy--now that dh is working too. If mine were the only paycheck feeding the family it would be a different matter altogether. A long case, such as one that may involve the death penalty or life in prison, is a break in pay no one with a job can afford. I've always dreamed of working for one of those rare companies who understand that jury duty is a legal and moral obligation and not a get-out-of-work-free card and pays people while they are out. If more places did this, more responsible, intelligent, hard-working (emphasis on the working part) people would be willing to serve on juries.

I feel bad for the defendant in the case I came four people away from being on the jury for yesterday. The ADA told the jury pool that the jury would most likely come from the first three rows. By the time voir dire was over most of the first FIVE rows had been excused on a litany of thin reasons, like, (yes, someone said this!), "Well, it never happened to me, but my mother's best friend's sister's nephew had it happen to him and I just don't think I could be impartial in this case."

Maybe the decline in the justice system in America isn't all the lawyers' fault. Maybe, just maybe, it's our fault, too.


Candy said...

The waste of time was probably me. LOL. I hate anything that wastes my time. I think the justice system is broken that it takes that long to get through choosing a jury, much less a trial. Having said that, I would go, but I wouldn't be happy about it and they'd better let me bring books :p

Anonymous said...

I've always wanted to serve on jury duty and it took me 39 years to get asked. Unfortunately, at that point I couldn't go because I'm a single mother and homeschooler with no family in the area.

To say serving on a jury would be a hardship would be an understatement -- plus, the paranoid side of me worried I'd be on the first jury in the freakin' history of the county get sequestered for 2 months or some crap like that. :-)

I filed to be excused and it was granted, but I felt guilty for months because I felt like a slacker. It's also just one of those things I really want to try.

The really bizarre part is that when I filed to be excused, I was told that if I *didn't* get an answer back I should assume it was granted. With my luck and for all I know, I wasn't excused after all and there's a warrant out on me.

Sorry, gotta run, there's a knock at the door. Is that a flashing blue light I see...?