Jury Duty: Awful or Awe-inspiring?
I vote for awe-inspiring. But according to a recent study by the National Center for State Courts, less than half of those who are summoned for jury duty bother to show up in court.
Are you shocked and dismayed? Not so much? Didn't think so. But given what jurors who've performed this public service have to say after they've experienced it firsthand, perhaps you should be.
That's why the Documentary Group is putting together a film for prospective jurors about citizens' positive experiences serving on a jury. They are interviewing interested participants in New York City this week. So if interested in being filmed or if you have questions about the project, you should email Sandra I. McDaniel, Sandra(dot)I(dot)McDaniel(dot)-ND(at)abc(dot)com, right away. Sandra writes:
The jury box has been called a palladium of justice and the bulwark of liberty.
Lofty descriptions indeed. But if you felt that your jury duty experience was something akin to that—The Documentary Group wants to hear from you.
We are producing a series of educational films for prospective jurors and would like to hear from those that have had recent, fulfilling experiences as jurors and want to share some positive observations with those looking down the barrel of…jury duty, that much maligned but vital civic service. Do you feel like it was a civic duty to be a juror? Did you learn more about our legal system? Do you want to tell others why you think it is a valuable thing to do even though, yes-- it is often inconvenient and yes, often time-consuming?
We would like to film interested participants this week at our offices in New York City. You don't have to bring anything except your desire to talk about how taking part in the justice system was an important event for you. These segments are designed to be streamed on the Internet, shown in courtrooms, or to be quite literally carried into jury duty on personal hand-held media players such as iPods in the near future. The trial you served on could have been civil or criminal, state or federal.You don't need to be a legal expert—you just need to have served.
In theory, Americans tend to really value the jury system (so argues this ABA study on juries and jury duty experiences). And after actually going through jury duty, Americans generally find that it was a good experience. But there's something about getting that card in the mail that for many people produces a sense of dread about dropping everything and showing up in court.
So, what gives? On NPR, Margaret Adler interviews Cornell Law Professor Valerie Hans (mp3), who says the following about jury duty angst:
Old historical documents... talk about Kings issuing proclamations insiting on jury service... You get the sense that very early on, it was a little hard to get people to... serve on the jury. And, there certainly are lots of jokes about how to get out of jury duty. But there's a reality--a lot of people are a bit apprehensive about it and there's in fact some research on why people feel ill at ease, and apprehensive and concerned about jury duty and think about ways that they get off... Mostly, they fear disruption, and perhaps also close encounters with people who are really different from you, and close encounters with the legal system...
But research shows that service on jury duty actually yields positive outcomes for participants, like increased civic participation among former jurors and a willingness to serve again if requested. Those who have been called to service view the experience even more positively than those who have not. Hans explains:
The research shows once you actually serve on the jury you look back and say, 'You know it wasn't as disruptive as I thought it was going to be...' People who haven't been very engaged with the community like people who vote infrequently for example, after jury service tend to become more likely voters... There's a way in which the experience of sitting down with fellow citizens and deciding an important issue seems to engage people and bind them to their community.
What do you think? Have you ever served on jury duty? Ducked out of it? If you are in the New York City area, tell Sandra and the folks at The Documentary Group about it. Who knows, maybe this could be your big break!
(Image Credit: BBC)