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Why Jury Duty Matters

Why Jury Duty Matters: A Citizens Guide to Constitutional Action

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Why Jury Duty Matters
    Book Description:

    It's easy to forget how important the jury really is to America. The right to be a juror is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed to all eligible citizens. The right to trial by jury helped spark the American Revolution, was quickly adopted at the Constitutional Convention, and is the only right that appears in both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. But for most of us, a jury summons is an unwelcome inconvenience. Who has time for jury duty? We have things to do.In Why Jury Duty Matters, Andrew Guthrie Ferguson reminds us that whether we like it or not, we are all constitutional actors. Jury duty provides an opportunity to reflect on that constitutional responsibility. Combining American history, constitutional law, and personal experience, the book engages citizens in the deeper meaning of jury service. Interweaving constitutional principles into the actual jury experience, this book is a handbook for those Americans who want to enrich the jury experience. It seeks to reconnect ordinary citizens to the constitutional character of a nation by focusing on the important, and largely ignored, democratic lessons of the jury. Jury duty is a shared American tradition. It connects people across class and race, creates habits of focus and purpose, and teaches values of participation, equality, and deliberation. We know that juries are important for courts, but we don't know that jury service is important for democracy. This book inspires us to re-examine the jury experience and act on the constitutional principles that guide our country before, during, and after jury service.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2904-5
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. FOREWORD: The American Jury System: Democracy at Work
    (pp. xi-xvii)

    A jury verdict changed my life. It was 1972. I was in college at Stanford University and the trial was about a half hour away in San Jose. I was a part of a large group of African American students at Stanford University who had been organizing against the criminal prosecution of Angela Davis. Davis—a political prisoner, black activist, and alleged criminal—had been charged with aiding the kidnapping and murder of a judge during the attempted escape of several prisoners from a criminal courtroom. The Angela Davis trial, mixing murder with racial politics, was one of the most...

    (pp. 1-7)

    In a poorly lit hallway, on an uncomfortable bench, a young man sits wringing his hands. Around him hums the bustle of an urban courthouse. Uniformed police officers, slick-suited lawyers, and casually dressed witnesses go in and out of the courtroom doors. Were he paying close attention, the young man could witness the anguished aftermath of a murder sentencing or a messy divorce down the hall.

    But at that moment, the man is concentrating on himself. Or perhaps, more specifically, the man is concentrating on twelve jurors behind a closed door—twelve jurors deliberating his fate. The man has just...

  6. 1 An Invitation to Participation
    (pp. 9-25)

    The letter arrives in the mail. “Dear Citizen” it begins.

    You hold in your hand an invitation. Sure, it looks like an official jury summons, and it was probably not the invitation you were hoping to receive. Yet it is still an invitation—an invitation to participate in the American experiment of self-government.

    It is not every day that we get an invitation saying “come join your extended neighborhood—meet the postal worker, cafeteria chef, banker, professor, or truck driver down the block.” It is not often that you are asked to socialize with a randomly selected group comprising all...

  7. 2 Selecting Fairness
    (pp. 27-45)

    As you wait to see if you will be selected as a juror, look around the courtroom. Study the parties at the table. What does it say that every time two litigants appear for trial, we know one side will lose? Both sides walk into court knowing at the outset that one side will lose, yet they still show up. The stakes are even higher for criminal defendants. But day after day, both sides still appear, hopeful that they can win. The genius of our jury system was to set up a mechanism so that both sides believe that they...

  8. 3 Choosing Equality
    (pp. 47-63)

    Throughout your jury service, you are known by a number—a juror number. You respond to that number. There are no nicknames or familiarities on jury duty. In the same way there are no titles. Whether you are a soccer mom or a Senator (or both), you are simply a number to the jury system. The number is not meant to insult, but to equalize. It provides the anonymity of being a citizen, one of millions who are doing exactly what you are doing in court: waiting for his or her number to be called. In 2003, during a federal...

  9. 4 Connecting to the Common Good
    (pp. 65-79)

    Jury selection ends with a hushed series of whispers. Then the trial judge intones those fateful words: “For those of you sitting in the jury box, you will be the jurors in this case. For the rest of you, thank you for your service, you may return to the jury office and tell them you have been excused.” These words produce a wonderful array of human emotion. Looks of abject horror appear on the faces of those jurors caught unaware of the meaning of shuffling back and forth to the jury box. Looks of resignation come from those jurors who...

  10. 5 Living Liberty
    (pp. 81-99)

    For most people, “liberty” is not synonymous with jury duty. Jurors feel like their own liberty—the freedom to live their lives—has been taken by judicial force. You are summoned to court. Day after day, you are told when to arrive, when to leave, and even when you can go to the bathroom. You sit in a particular numbered seat. You watch what others produce for you to watch. The rules of court are decided for you, and though you are a central part of the trial process, you have little independent control.

    As you watch the parade of...

  11. 6 Deciding Through Deliberation
    (pp. 101-115)

    So, it is time to decide. The trial is over. The evidence is completed. You and your fellow jurors sit around a table. You have been asked to make the final decision in a case. You are about to begin the process of jury deliberations. You are about to practice the principle of deliberation.

    One of the most puzzling things for jurors is that once inside the jury room there is no guidebook on how to decide.¹ Sure you have the jury instructions, with the burdens of proof, standards of proof, elements of charges, and ways of judging the different...

  12. 7 Protecting a Dissenting Voice
    (pp. 117-137)

    In the Academy Award– nominated movie 12Angry Men,a single juror convinces the other eleven to question their assumptions of guilt in what appears to be a simple case.¹ The lone juror dissents to prolong a quick vote for guilt, and eventually creates enough questions to turn around the verdict. When questioned about his initial “not guilty” vote, Henry Fonda, playing the juror, states, “There were eleven votes for guilty. It’s not easy for me to raise my hand and send a boy off to die without talking about it first . . . [W]e’re talking about somebody’s life...

  13. 8 Judging Accountability
    (pp. 139-159)

    You sit in judgment. Literally and figuratively you sit—twelve jurors judging a human being or human problem. While your seats may not be as elevated as the judge’s, your position is just as important. As you sit in that jury box, across from the defendant or plaintiff, you act as judge. Sure, no one gave you a black robe, but you act as a force for accountability. You represent the community—a community conscience.¹ As jurors, your responsibility is to hold someone accountable. You bear witness to the violation of the community order. In a criminal case, the government...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 161-164)

    In the local courthouse, 4:30 p.m. is known as “the witching hour” for jury verdicts. A half an hour more and the jury will need to return for another day of deliberations.

    I look across at my young client still wringing his hands. He has barely moved from our uncomfortable bench for three days. The courthouse feels empty. A law clerk shuffling papers in the hallway interrupts the stifling silence. I touch my copy of the Constitution for good luck. Will the jury be willing to come back for yet another day of deliberations?

    The courtroom clerk pokes her head...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 165-196)
    (pp. 197-228)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 229-233)
    (pp. 234-234)