Want to Avoid Jury Duty? Read This.
Nobody enjoys receiving that envelope in the mail that says “Jury Summons”. It’s about as welcoming as something from the IRS or a reminder from the doctor that says you need to get a colonoscopy or mammogram. I’ll admit it: I cringe when I see the image in my notification about what’s in the mail. Knowing that it has the potential to really mess with my schedule can be stressful.
I’m clearly not alone in the anxiety such a piece of mail creates. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve read more than one post from friends on Facebook with concerns about receiving a jury summons. The vast majority of the comments left on their posts involved things to say that can get you dismissed from service. This has happened several times over the last couple of weeks and the responses were consistent across all the posts.
But you know what? It’s our civic duty as citizens of the United States. It’s part of what makes our justice system work. It’s what helps keep innocent people from going to jail and prevents guilty individuals from being set free. So when I receive a summons in the mail, I fill out the form honestly and figure if I’m called then I’ll make it work with my busy schedule.
Unfortunately, I’m discovering that I’m in the minority.
Yes, I get that our schedules can be busy, but it’s a fact that a summons isn’t synonymous with getting called into the courtroom. It is often a practice to call into an automated system on a specified date and it will tell you if your number has been called. The last 3 times that I’ve received a summons, I haven’t needed to report which also means I haven’t needed to serve on a jury. Yes, I would breath a sigh of relief upon hearing, “Your obligation has been met.” but I was ready nonetheless and that’s what matters.
Most people aren’t.
Then a friend was sharing how she was called to the courtroom where the attorneys question the potential jurors in attempt to assemble a representative “jury of your peers.” What she posted next alarmed me; the judge dismissed her entire group because they couldn’t find enough people who could be fair and impartial. She said a lot of people were in their 20s and early 30s and didn’t agree with the law so wouldn’t convict based on the evidence provided. Whether you agree with the law or not isn’t the issue. The idea is to be fair and impartial based on the evidence and how it relates to the law. Not whether or not you think they should be found guilty (or innocent) based on your perception of what the law should be. This is about using your background, your knowledge, your ability to reason and make reasonable decisions to evaluate whether the prosecution provided enough evidence to convict or not. Not whether or not you thought it was a good law. If that’s your concern, you should be doing all you can to get out to the polls and elect the officials that make or change the laws… and that’s a entirely different conversation for an entirely different day.
This discussion struck a nerve with my friend, Amanda Richards who is a partner with Betty, Neuman & McMahon, P.L.C. here in the Quad Cities. When I told her about my concerns for people wanting to talk their way out of jury duty, her first response was that they see it all the time. People in her position have to rephrase questions to flush out the right information in their jury selection process. She summed it up well when she told me, “Our justice system was set up specifically so that we as American citizens are entitled to a trial by our peers. People fail to see the power in that. A jury is a place where we as regular everyday citizens get to say what we believe is right and wrong in our society. That actually is incredibly powerful and shouldn’t be taken for granted. It is not our government, or our elected officials that have the fate of these cases in their hand, it’s grandmothers, and mothers, and regular men and women. It really is the only part of our government system where we get to participate.” Iowa Public Defender, Meena Brandt, said she hears all kinds of crazy excuses for people trying to avoid being assigned to jury duty. However, she reminded me the significance (and history) of why we are all called to this service, “The Iowa constitution and United States constitution is what gives us the right to a jury trial… the phrase a jury of your peers, which dates back to the Magna Carta, guaranteed the rights of individuals. It really means having a jury of your equals. A jury that is a fair representation of the population is key to getting a fair trial. A variety of perspectives, life experiences, and personalities make jurors the best judges when it comes to weighing evidence in a case. Moreover, no one wants to be judged by people who don’t want to be there and who don’t care. Jurors need to be invested and take the jury trial system seriously. It’s a matter of life and liberty.”
What both this legal individuals emphasized is the importance of the participation of everyday people. We can get out to the polls, caucus for and elect the people who align with our religious, political and economic beliefs. While in office, those officials listen to details, facts and opinions about various bills and issues and vote on legislation accordingly. While we can share our feedback with them, ultimately we cannot force them to vote in any particular way. When YOU step into the jury box, it is YOUR job to listen to both sides of the story. YOU pay attention, take notes and absorb what the facts are. After closing arguments, YOU sit in closed quarters with your peers and talk about it. You compare notes and discuss what made sense and didn’t. YOU put the pieces together based on the details provided to you. At the end, you can personally take pride in knowing you played a part in the entire process. The fate of the individual(s) in the trial is in your hands.
But none of that is possible if you have opted to excuse your way out of jury duty.
The next time you receive a jury summons, please don’t try to jump through hoops to avoid serving on the jury. Look at it from the side of the court and of the defendant. If you are a person capable of making sound decisions based on set parameters, then be willing to be part of the peer system. Because while people often complain about rights, laws and issues in our country, this is something you’re truly entitled to. You should be proud of that.
Have you ever served on a jury?
17 thoughts on “Want to Avoid Jury Duty? Read This.”
I could not agree more. We need to participate in our system of government to protect and defend it. And serving on a jury is one of our most valuable acts as citizens. We are making the decisions about the liberty of another citizen and the justice in application of the law. I just received another jury summons last week. Sure, it’s hard to find the time in my schedule, but it’s vital to our system that I do.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Anne-Marie. You probably recognized a bit of my commentary.
I know that there is discussion out there in schools about having more civics classes and I am one that thinks it is a good idea. Understanding rights and responsibilities is important for all.
Absolutely necessary, Mia. Our girls are in high school and haven’t learned much about the jury process.
Juries are fixed more than people know. Why does the US have the largest prison system and more innocent people exo erated by dna ? It’s corrupt
I’ve never served on a jury except one time when I volunteered to serve on a mock jury. I think people tend to find it a hassle and waste of time except, maybe, in a high profile case or if the situation is really salacious. I’d actually like to serve on a jury at least once to see what it’s really like. I’m fairly certain that under most circumstances I could be fair and impartial.
I never officially served on jury duty but I came close once. I was in the alternate jurors box and I was asked a question w/ 2 choices. I apparently chose wrong and was dismissed.
I actually enjoyed serving Jury duty on a trial…but most times they ask you to serve, it’s very disruptive to your life.
I was selected for one jury. I agree with your article, it is our duty and I would want as impartial a jury as possible if I was on trial. Unfortunately it’s become an American expectation to get yourself out of jury duty by almost any means possible.
I have been fortunate enough that every time my name has been selected for jury duty, I have never actually been called to serve on a jury. But it has always been something I have wanted to do.
So far I’ve successfully dodged it but these tips will come in handy
I never have, personally, but I know my mom got summoned once….
I’ve never had to do jury duty, yet, but honestly dont really mind the idea. I just worry it’ll be for a very serious case and dont know how I feel about being one of the people to decide how someone’s life will turn out.
I’ve never had to serve on a jury because I have narcolepsy
Never been on jury duty.
I haven’t been jury duty yet..this is a great article!
I believe in jury duty. I was on for a summer stint, but never got called. Thank you for your thoughts on the subject.