If you commit a crime, you have the right to a fair trial in which the court decides whether the government has the right to lock you up. But if you don’t commit a crime, the government has the right to “lock” you up (in a jury room) against your will and force you to render a decision as to whether the government has the right to lock up some one else who has committed a crime. Is there something wrong with this picture?
Jury duty is essentially community service for people who haven’t committed a crime.
About a half million people a year in New York State alone are subjected to jury duty. A great portion of them do not want to serve. To many of them it’s everything from a gross inconvenience to a physical hardship to emotional torment. And all this, for what? A voluntary jury system would do just as well as, if not better than, a mandatory jury system.
We have a robust military despite the fact that it’s voluntary and despite its inherent dangers. Why does anyone think people would not apply for jury duty if it were voluntary?
We give lip service to the notion of giving a person accused of a crime a fair trial. But the current jury system is anything but fair. Does anyone know how many jurors on a given case are actually paying attention to the court proceedings? Take for example someone who’s going through a bad divorce. He’s worried about losing his kids, losing his house, how to deal with lawyers, and how his estranged wife is strangling him financially and emotionally. All this is not enough to get him out of jury duty.
So if someone with such a disheveled state of mind sits on a jury, what on earth do you think he’ll be thinking about? The case in front of him? If he wanted to he probably couldn’t do it!
What about someone with a very sick close relative? He’s likely preoccupied with doctors, treatments, hospitals, medicines, etc. All this is also not enough to get him out of jury duty, as long as someone is currently taking care of that relative. Will he be able to get all this out of his mind to focus on a court case? Not very likely.
Then there are people with all sorts of ailments — chronic headaches, backaches, abdominal distress, flatulation, muscle cramps, knee pain, etc. — which are not severe enough to incapacitate them yet intense enough to make their lives miserable. They must also serve on jury duty. Such maladies can sometimes be disturbing enough to keep people from focusing on simple, everyday chores. They’re going to sit on a jury and pay attention to what’s going on? Gimme a break!
It’s not only adversities that interfere with one’s focusing on extraneous matters. People who run a business, for example, are plucked out of their lives and told, in effect, to stop thinking of their business and focus on a trial. Really? People can actually redirect their thoughts that easily? Who are we kidding?
And how about people who are just so irate over being forced to serve as a juror that they just don’t give a darn about what’s going on in the courtroom. I spoke to one guy who was a juror on a murder trail. He said he didn’t care which way the verdict went, he just wanted to go home!