Loud Music is a $40 Fine

Just my personal blog.

June 15, 2007

Jury Duty

According to a report by the National Center for State Courts, more than one-third of Americans will serve on a jury at some point. They say that’s an increase from 30 years ago, when that number was only 6%. (Hat tip: Ben Cunningham at Taxing Tennessee).

I’m still amazed at why someone would want to avoid jury duty. In the summer of 2001, I received a subpoena for jury duty here in Nashville. Everyone I told pretty much asked me what excuse I was going to use to get out of it or commented that they were glad they’d never been subpoenaed.

I think judges should be less lenient towards people who try to avoid this civic duty. Now I can certainly see some valid reasons: single mother with no day care; small business owner (or employee); caretaker for a sick family member. But there should be as few exceptions made as possible.

The whole court system experience was a real eye opener. My subpoena was for the Grand Jury. My only experience with a Grand Jury was as a witness in a counterfeit currency case back in 1982. I wasn’t really impressed with the process then (only a few members questioned me; most either read the paper or did crossword puzzles).

So I decided that if I was chosen, I’d try to be a better juror than those who were on the Grand Jury when I testified. As it turns out,  I ended up not getting selected. The Judge said that those of us who weren’t selected still had not fulfilled our obligation, and that our names were to be put back in the pool of potential jurors.

Sure enough, about two months later, I was subpoenaed again to be a part of the pool for a petit jury. This time, I did get selected. The trial was for a campus book store robbery and had two defendants. We ended up convicting one defendant of aggravated robery (since he used a gun) and the other was convicted of a lesser charge. The actual trial only took two days for testamony; we deliberated for three days before rendering a verdict.

Last year I was subpoenaed again for petit jury duty. I ended up on another jury a couple of months later, this time for a DWI case in which we ultimately convicted the defendant.

All of the jurors in that case (including me) learned that in Tennessee, we have a law called “implied consent.” What that means is that when you get a drivers license, you’re consenting to be tested for alcohol if the officer who pulls you over has reason to suspect you’re driving under the influence. If you refuse the test, you forfeit your license for a year. In this case, serving on the jury was an educational experience. I’d bet that only a small percentage of licensed Tennessee drivers are aware of that law.

Jury duty isn’t a big hassle. Granted, it could be if you’re on a jury that’s sequestered, but that’s pretty rare. It’s something that everyone should do. In Tennessee you can even volunteer for jury duty. I highly recommend it.

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