serving justice at jury duty

Doing Our Civic Duty

Serving on a jury is one of the best ways to give your time

Good Turns was busy this past week—we were on jury duty.

Being available to serve on a jury is a condition of United States citizenship—but it is also one of the best ways to contribute to the civic health of your country, and—though it’s mandatory—constitutes an important good turn.

About 32 million people are summoned for jury duty each year, though only about 8 million people actually report for duty, according to the National Center for State Courts. About 4 million summons are returned as undeliverable, and about 3 million people simply fail to show up. By the time deferrals are granted and prospective jurors are dismissed for various reasons, it turns out that as few as 1.5 million people actually serve as jurors in state courts each year, where about 150,000 jury trials are conducted annually. That makes jury service the province of a rarefied and distinguished population. Good Turns wasn’t selected as a juror this time, but we were happy to have had the chance to show up and be ready to do our civic duty.

Jury duty creates habits of focus and purpose, and teaches values necessary for democracy

It’s relatively easy to avoid jury service (which is one of the reasons we think of it as a good turn), but you’re missing a real opportunity to make your voice heard if you do. Jury service is one of the only places in our system of representative democracy in which citizens can have a direct impact on the way in which justice is carried out.

Jurors are charged with collectively deciding the guilt or innocence of those accused of crimes (or, in civil trials, whether a defendant should be held legally responsible for damages). Here is where you get to vote your conscience, based on the evidence presented, and make a direct difference in people’s lives.

The responsibility is not to be taken lightly. Law professor Andrew Guthrie Ferguson calls jury duty “one of the last unifying acts of citizenship.” His book Why Jury Duty Matters explores the constitutional responsibility that is jury duty—a right that helped spark the American Revolution—and helps illustrate why it’s so important for Americans for to answer the call.

Jury duty “connects people across class, national origin, religion, gender, and race,” Ferguson writes. “It creates habits of focus and purpose, and teaches values necessary for democracy. No matter your education level or importance, you share this constitutional right and obligation.”

See you in court!

(Photo courtesy of Flickr user Bri)

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