We Almost Got a Truthful Explanation

28 07 2007


Courts across the country have been going to extraordinary lengths in recent years to get people to report for jury duty — a cornerstone of democracy and a civic responsibility that many citizens would do almost anything to avoid.


An increase in the number of homicides in Boston and the use of special grand juries to investigate violent crimes have eaten into the prospective juror list.

The city also has a large number of immigrants, who are exempt from jury duty, and college students, who move so frequently that their summonses are often sent back as undeliverable.

The problem appears to be worse in urban courts, where the population is more transient and address lists can quickly become outdated. But rural and suburban areas also have problems with reluctant jurors.

They almost hit the nail of the problem right on its head. In big cities, with big populations of blacks and Hispanics, there is so much crime, and therefore many more criminal jury trials than white jurisdictions, that jurors are needed more often. In Missouri, one can’t be summoned for jury duty more often than once every three years, and if you’re 21 or older and not a convicted felon and you live in the city, you can attest to the fact that the city courts push that rule almost right up to the edge. (The obvious requirement that jurors not be convicted felons contributes to a smaller base of potential jurors in big cities.) You know that, once three years have passed since you were last called in, you can count on one hand the weeks that will pass until you get that summons in the mail. I know that it won’t be long after mid-January next that I’ll be called in.

Meanwhile, I bet there are some people who live in St. Charles County who have never been called in for jury duty for a criminal case in state courts at St. Charles.

Beyond all of that, this article is more right than even its author knows. Jurors, at the time they are serving, have an immense level of power — one person can keep a criminal defendant from going to prison. Intelligent juries can be a firewall against capricious prosecution and abuse of power.  And in spite of what judges say, jurors can judge both the facts and the law in making a decision.

Lying in a court is never a good idea, but if I had to make the Hobson’s Choice, I would rather lie to get on a jury than lie to get out of jury duty.



One response

28 07 2007
Jury Experiences

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