twleve angry

Scene from TWELVE ANGRY MEN

We use a jury system here. That means ordinary folks like us are called as part of the duties of their citizenship to sit as decision makers in trials. That means the prosecution and the defense actually unite in one phase of a trial (which is mostly adversarial by nature) to decide who will serve on such a jury. That means a judge instructs the jury before, during, and after the trial on many matters – and such a jury is expected to follow those instructions. That means the prosecution and the defense try as many ways as they can to persuade that jury towards a verdict, and that persuasion may include all forms of methods, legitimate or otherwise.

The jury system is also human. That also means it is not perfect. A jury can miss things by a mile or two. A jury can get it right. Or, it can come out somewhere in the middle of it all. Every day, juries sit in courts throughout our country, deciding everything from small disputes to major litigation of huge cases.
Most of the time, they get no recognition for their work. Most of the time, they just go home, job done, and may never be called to jury duty again.

Occasionally, certain cases become very public. The media breaks out weapons of journalistic strength. Groups affected by those cases show up outside the courthouse – sometimes well organized, sometimes not so much.

And, maybe too often, some of us get all balled up about the outcome of some of these more publicized trials and talk about how unfair, how evil, how crass a verdict may be. Some of us are sure (maybe even DAMN sure) that the whole system is just a sham, totally useless, totally unfair. We’ve seen quite a gamut of reactions – demonstrations, sit-ins, police stations surrounded, riots – you name it.

Like I said, the system is flawed, simply because it is a human concept. We have the right to express our feelings when and if we feel such a system is flawed and needs fixing. We have a right to go about it any way we feel necessary, and will passionately insist on that right.

But then there’s this. What’s your attitude when that letter comes from the court administrator that you are expected to show up for jury duty? Are you one of those who seeks out ways to ‘get out of jury duty’? Do you crab when you read the dates? Do you have all sorts of reasons why you can’t serve? Are you as passionate at getting out of jury duty as you are about expressing your feelings when a jury “gets it wrong”? What kind of example are you setting for your neighbor, your fellow citizens, your own KIDS?

We claim it is our right as citizens to vote, to express our thoughts on the government and its leaders, to make sure we are heard. We should also be as sincere when it comes our turn to do jury duty. It is a solemn, difficult job.

Reform the system? Sure. Let’s do what needs to be done. Are there laws that need to be addressed? Are there ways to make jury duty a more acceptable way of expressing our citizenship? Are there social standards that are in question? Yes, all in cases.

It just seems to me that perhaps we should just start with ourselves with a review of our attitude about jury duty, and a review our attitude about those who are serving that job for us.

Such a thing would make better citizens of us all.

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(Personal Note: Yes. I’ve been called and served on a Grand Jury, hearing evidence on two different murder cases in one year.)

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