One of the principal rights of all citizens of the United States is a right to a trial before a jury of one’s peers. Thus being a citizen of the United States means that at some point you may be called to serve jury duty. It is call “duty” because it is actually a responsibility of each citizen. Without citizens willing to fulfill the call to serve, we would all be unable to have access to the right of jury trials.
It may seem inconvenient, and frequently is, to serve on a jury. However, it is also a chance to actively participate in allowing other citizens the basic freedoms to which they are entitled. It helps to put the shoe on the other foot here and imagine what it might be like if you were charged with a crime and no jury could be seated to deliberate your fate.
The jury is one of the checks and balances that is supposed to make trials fair. One makes an appeal not just to judges or to lawyers but to the “average Joe or average Jane.” In other words, the jury is supposed to be made up of people just like you, not judges or attorneys.
Therefore, when one receives a summons to serve jury duty, it is important to respond. Some employers generously pay for a person’s time when they have jury duty. Others, like the self-employed, may find that it means financial hardship. Depending upon the judge and the laws of the state, there are a few reasons why one can be excused and not serve.
These reasons can include proving extreme financial hardship, having to care for a dependent that is disabled, or being mentally or physically incapacitated to the point where one could not reasonably deliberate on a jury. In many cases, although one gets a summons, one will never actually have to serve jury duty. This is because many cases are settled prior to even getting to court. Usually a potential juror, who waits for a day or two and has the case to which they are assigned settled, has fulfilled his or her obligation.
In addition, one is not required to serve jury duty more than once every 12 months. If you receive a summons and have recently been on a jury, a call to the court can usually mean you don’t have to serve again. Many people fail to answer summons to serve jury duty, however, which is technically illegal. It is also a shame, since it is the responsibility in a democracy for all people to uphold the principals that give us our basic rights.
Ultimately, if one must serve jury duty, consider it not only a duty but also a privilege of citizenship. We are often used to thinking of citizenship in a passive way. To serve on a jury is to actively be a citizen. Though it may be troublesome to have a week or two taken from you, how much more troublesome would it be to have a court system that did not give the individual basic rights and privileges?