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Thursday, March 3, 2016

Duty

This is a true story about two jury notices. They were sent out in two states, and they both resulted in posts and/or discussions on social media. They both provoked a great deal of thought in me, which I am now going to share with you.

The First Notice: This person's jury notice included the offer of a special bus ticket which enabled the Prospective Juror to avoid the hassle and expense of driving into the city center. The P.J. (Prospective Juror) decided to take advantage of this option and rode public transportation down to the courthouse on a lovely morning. The P.J. was released from jury duty shortly after his arrival. I think that he looked at the day as a gift. He explored various streets and shops in the area, taking pictures of the courthouse, interesting architecture, and other things that captured his eye. After he went home he shared an online photo album of the day he had enjoyed. His attitude of adventure delighted me.

The Second Notice: This person's jury notice was photographed and placed online with a comment to the effect of "Thanks a lot, (state name omitted). I just moved here eighteen months ago and this is how you treat me." The post elicited numerous comments and pieces of advice on how to avoid serving jury duty. These comments/pieces of advice included:

a) Since you are a (job omitted), you won't have to serve.
b) Go in wearing a t-shirt of a Confederate flag.
c) Act like a complete racist and they will release you.

I won't lie. The attitudes surrounding the second jury notice really bothered me. I know that being called for jury duty can be a pain in the neck. We may have to take time away from work and make special arrangements for the various responsibilities and commitments in our lives. I have received several jury duty summonses throughout the years. I was only required to show up at the courthouse three times. The first was while I was working in banking, and it was a civil suit in the County Court. As you probably know, a civil suit is not about someone committing a crime. It is about one person or entity suing another person or entity over some sort of dispute. The parties leave their fates in the hands of the jury. 

The second time, while I was working in retail, I was called to serve in the Federal Court. While that sounds like it might have been something full of intrigue and excitement, it was another civil case. It was being tried in the Federal courthouse because the parties involved lived in different states. In the third case, the defendant pled guilty to murder literally at the very last moment. The prospective jurors had already filled out an extensive juror questionnaire. The judge came to tell us that the young man who committed the murder would never again be free and to thank us for our willingness to serve.

I was chosen to serve on both of the juries for the civil suits. In the first case, we awarded the Plaintiff damages but found that she was partially responsible for her injuries. We lowered the amount she was awarded by the percentage of fault that we felt was hers. (For example, Badguy Corporation owes you $100,000. We felt it was 30% your fault, though, so you only get $70,00.) In the Federal Court case, in which I was selected as Madam Foreperson (to the judge's great surprise - he thought for sure that the doctor would be the one selected rather than the lone female), we decided that the Plaintiff was entirely at fault and no damages were awarded.

I know that there are many people who would say that this is a boring pain in the backside and that they would and will do anything to get out of serving on a jury. But let me just say a few things about the importance of the jury system. As my contrast to the American Justice System, I will cite the country my family escaped from, Soviet-occupied Hungary. You have a dispute with your neighbor in the USA that can't be resolved. He says that you borrowed his power mower and never returned it. He sues you and you both plead your case in court. You show the judge and jury pictures of the power mower sitting behind his garage. You are not in any trouble, but your neighbor is probably so humiliated he will never invite you over to watch football again. Yes, stuff like this has really happened.

In Soviet-occupied Hungary, a neighbor who has a dispute with you might have a friend in the Secret Police. He says that you have his shovel and you insist that you returned it last week. Let's say he tells his friend that you are in opposition to the government. You are arrested and taken to headquarters. You are told you must confess your crimes against the state. You don't confess because you haven't done anything. You are perhaps made to stand on one foot for several days, or beaten, or your fingernails are pulled out. You finally confess because you are told that your family will also be beaten or killed if you don't confess. After your confession, you and your entire family are executed. Yes, stuff like this really happened. 

These are just examples of disputes. In the USA, there must be a great deal of evidence for an arrest to be made for a serious crime like rape, robbery, or murder, to name a few. And no matter how much evidence exists, the accused is still afforded the right to a trial by a jury of their peers. It's not a perfect system, but it strives to be a fair system. I think that serving as a juror in a system like this is not just a duty but an honor. If it came down to you being accused, which system would you rather have deciding your fate?




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