On Jury Duty

Suck it up and get in there.

Mention that you’ve been called for jury duty and you’re guaranteed to hear a litany of sure-fire methods of getting out of it.  Most, if not all of them, I find embarrassing and I can’t believe that anyone would want to say any of those things about themselves in a public forum and on the record, because the common theme in the advice is “I’m not capable of being fair.”

I’ve lived in the Chicago area for 20 years and have just been called for the first time.  The desire to avoid jury duty seems almost universal.  Tragic events in our extended family have left my father with the metaphysical certitude that the criminal justice system doesn’t work.  His lack of faith in the system, and his willingness to tell anyone within earshot of it makes him certain that he has blanket immunity from jury service for the rest of his days.  The details of that story are too sad to recount here.  I understand why he thinks that way, but I’ve reached a different conclusion based on the same facts.  It won’t surprise anyone that knows my father and me that we would come out on different sides.

I have had my own modest encounter with the criminal justice system–a complicated tale for another time (I can’t believe I haven’t set it down on paper yet, five years after it happened.  Perhaps soon.)  It was from that experience that I developed a different view of jury service.  I’d urge the two people who read this column to consider it and perhaps pass it on.

There are two fairly simple reasons why being called to jury duty not only doesn’t bother me but it is something I welcome.

First, I’ll never be asked to put on the uniform on to defend this country.  Voting and serving on a jury are among the only things I can do in service of this nation.  Spending one day or one month on a jury is a small sacrifice to make compared to the people who put on that uniform in service of our country, let alone those that gave their lives for our cause. I have friends and cousins on both sides of my family that have served honorably, not to mention those in earlier generations who were drafted.  On a personal level, my dodging jury duty because it’s a little inconvenient for me to spend a day at the courthouse cheapens the sacrifice they’ve made.

Secondly, if I were, heaven forbid, sitting at the defense table, I’d want someone like you or me sitting in the jury box.  All those people running from jury service are forcing defendants to place their liberty in the hands of, as the joke goes, “people not smart enough to get out of jury duty.”  That would not comfort me if I were a defendant.

I know that people with my background (multiple degrees, white-collar job, to say nothing of my appearance) are routinely dropped from juries during  the voir dire process.  Not being selected strikes me as different from having a potential juror saying something deliberately make them unattractive for jury service.

I know it’s a pain and I know that it costs you a day’s work that you’ll have to figure out how to make up. I know it’s boring just sitting there with your fellow-man, being denied access to anything but a newspaper or a book.

Tough.

Lots of people have given much of themselves to give us this system.  Someone you know or love could need a bunch of smart people in that jury box one day. Say thanks to those that have worn the uniform by not complaining about it.  Do your friends, loved ones and fellow citizens a favor. Suck it up and get in there.

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