The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.”
The Seventh Amendment to the U.S Constitution: “In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved.”
Love or hate the politics, we live in the world’s greatest democracy and among our rights as a citizen is a trial by jury, in matters both criminal (think: robbery, sex crimes and murder) and civil (think: neighbor and property disputes, class action lawsuits).
Perhaps in our selfish, every-man-for-himself, instant-satisfaction society, we’d like to believe otherwise, but rights come with duties.
I dutifully reported for jury duty this morning, and it was a pain in the neck. I got up two hours earlier than normal (so I could squeeze in my 3 miles on the treadmill), I ate breakfast in the car on the way and I drove 50 minutes one way to the courthouse.
I submitted to a metal detector, checked in with 18 other residents, waited around 20 minutes, watched a poorly produced video on the county’s justice system and was greeted by a judge who said, “The bad news is you had to drive all the way here in single-digit temperatures to hear this, but the good news is the case settled this morning and you’re dismissed from jury service for at least a year.”
Apparently, we were to hear a civil case involving a car accident with $5,500 in damages at stake. Not a big deal to me, but apparently a big deal to someone. Just by showing up, my name is now off the list of names for jury service for at least a year.
We were reminded at least twice in the video and at least once by the judge that our appearance at the courthouse is important, and he thanked us profusely for showing up.
Apparently, a lot of surly people show up for jury duty. Sure, it was inconvenient, and yes, I definitely had better things to do than drive 50 minutes on Monday morning winter roads only to be sent home again.
But if I were accused of a crime or if I’ve been wronged by another party, I want intelligent people with integrity who are valuable enough to someone somewhere to have something better to do — like me — weighing the facts of my case. I am, in fact, a plaintiff in a lawsuit that will ultimately mean a lot of money to me and to hundreds of other hard-working people whose retirement money went up in smoke, and when and if that suit goes before a jury, I want really smart people figuring out what’s what.
If you’re called to serve on a jury, leave your crabby attitude at home. Cultivate a little empathy for the accuser and the accused, and be thankful for our great democracy.
Jury duty is not fun, but it’s necessary — kind of like those 3 miles at 5:30 a.m. this morning. Think of it as exercising your duties so we all can enjoy our rights.