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Once again with jury duty

What John says.

Most people do not want to sit on a jury, and I was no different. Being away for a couple of days was quite disruptive (and this was a very short trial). Everybody has other things they want to do.

And that’s fine, but it was amazing to me how many people there started spouting rationales that clearly were designed to get out of jury service. “I couldn’t possibly convict someone based on proof beyond a reasonable doubt – it would have to be absolute proof.” Well, by that standard, nobody’s even getting convicted. “If a police officer testified, I would believe him no matter what!” You couldn’t evaluate what was being said? I have great respect for police, but let’s face it, like any other group of human beings, some are not credible.

The judge – a cranky guy who was substituting for the regular judge that day – was having none of it. The people saying this stuff got brought up, one by one, to discuss it with him.

Now, there are people who legitimately hold those views. It was painfully obvious that most of these folks were not among them. One woman kept saying, “I can’t be impartial!” “Why not?” “I can’t be!” “Why not?” “I just can’t!”

The worst was a 20-something woman who approached the bench, and after some muttered conversation we couldn’t hear in the back of the room, was sent away by the judge with a quite audible dismissal – “Just go be seated!” and came back to where we were sitting with a smirk on her face. Ha ha, I got out of it!

And while we all would have liked to have gotten out of it, the reality is that if we want to live in a country where we get a trial by a jury of our peers – whether in a criminal or civil case – somebody’s got to sit on those juries. If not us, then who?

It’s one thing to be honest about your biases. It’s fine to honestly say, “I do not understand what that law you’re describing means.” But to sit and just spout crap to get out of it marks you as somebody who doesn’t deserve the benefits of our system of justice.

You can’t give up a few days of your life? Go find a nice dictatorship where, if you run afoul of the law, you’ll be tossed in prison without the niceties of a trial. It is apparently what you prefer.

Perhaps someday Ms. Smirk-a-lot will find herself or a family member in court, hoping for sympathetic people to sit on the jury, and watching them weasel out of it.

I’ve written about this before, and I’ll say it again: People who distort their beliefs to get out of jury duty, for the reason that they don’t feel like being on a jury, are beneath contempt. If you have a legitimate reason for not being able to serve, that’s fine – tell the judge and be done with it. Otherwise, suck it up. I’ve been in Houston 19 years now, and I’ve served on exactly two juries, one of which was for traffic court where they guarantee up front you’ll be out the same day. If that’s your idea of an excessive burden, I pity you.

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4 Comments

  1. In many cases, even if you are not selected for one jury, you are sent back into the pool for another possible panel. Making up an excuse to get out of one jury may simply delay your completion of service, especially if you get selected later in the day, and for a longer trial. Be honest, let “doing the right thing” run its course.

  2. Tim says:

    Then there are those of us who wanted to be on a jury but were kicked off the jury pool because of our political affiliation.

    I was a registered Libertarian for a while in California, and when I was summoned and my number was called, I went up there prepared to serve. But the prosecuting attorney kept hitting me with questions about judging the guilt rather than the justice of the law, and even when I said I had no problem with that, the prosecuting attorney immediately used a peremptory to get rid of me.

    So while I somewhat agree that those who try to get out of it may not deserve the justice the system gives them, I also have less respect for the system than others because of the way they spat me out.

  3. Justin says:

    Somehow there was a summons in the mail for me when I got back to Houston once I graduated/moved out of college. Hopefully that’s the only jury I serve on. Law student/lawyer is still exemptable, right?

  4. Chris says:

    I get to pay my first visit to the Jury Assembly Room next month. I’ve received a jury summons twice before, but being enrolled in college exempted me. I don’t have a particular desire one way or the other about serving on a jury. Getting out of my job for a couple days? Sounds good. Commuting from Cypress to downtown? Sounds not so good.