By: Brian Snow  | 

Jury Duty: Our Civic Duty

When I received my summons to jury duty, back in late August, my initial reaction was to attempt to postpone the date when I would need to serve for as long as possible. Luckily, as a student, I already had a ready made excuse. I proceeded to happily push off jury duty until the January intersession break. Unfortunately, when January rolled around, I was out of excuses. Now that I was home with no work to do, there was no way that I was going to be able to continue postponing jury duty. I couldn’t push it off indefinitely.

When my day of service finally arrived, in mid-January, I proceeded with a groan to the Superior Court of Middlesex County. It didn’t help that I was required to arrive extremely early in the morning. As one would expect, the mood at the court was not a happy one. Almost none of the two hundred potential jurors had a smile on their faces. It seems that everybody else felt the same way that I did: we were depressed, even frightened, at the thought that we might actually end up on a case. The sense of trepidation in the room was almost palpable. In the background, I could hear people discussing tricks, techniques, and excuses that would guarantee that they wouldn’t get put on a case.

To kick-off the morning I and the two hundred other potential jurors watched a ten minute video describing the jury process.  The video made sure to note how lucky we were to be able to perform our civic duty.  Of course, many people paid no attention to the video. About a third of the people in the room had headphones in their ears and were totally tuned out. The rest of us, who were watching, rolled our eyes when we heard the video describe us as “lucky” to perform our “civic duty.”

The worst part of the day was when I was almost selected for the jury of an actual trial.  Luckily, before my turn came to be questioned by the judge, the eight needed jurors had already been selected, and I was good to go. As I travelled back home from the court, I pondered whether jury duty actually is a civic duty. The courts extol the importance of being judged by a jury of one’s peers. After a day at the Superior Court of Middlesex County, I can attest to why that is and to the tremendous importance of jury duty.  

The case I was almost placed on was that of a single mother who was suing her insurance company after a small fire broke out in her home. This woman was a regular person, just like the rest of us. One of us could easily have been in her shoes. A jury of one’s peers, while not a perfect system, is meant to help ensure that a verdict won’t be rigged in favor of one party. In this case, in which a woman was single handedly taking on a major corporation, one could have been particularly concerned that the decision would be rigged from the start. Absent a jury, what is the likelihood that this woman would actually have been awarded any money? A randomly selected jury of regular people ensures that, at the very least, everyone gets a fair hearing in court.

While I found my day spent at the court relatively boring, and while I will still not be extremely excited when I get my next jury summons, I have developed a greater appreciation for why we are summoned for jury duty.  After all, jury duty is not just a day where we are forced to miss work. It is, in fact, our civic duty.