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Monday, September 26, 2011

Jury Duty Should be Voluntary

It’s every American Citizens Constitutional right as an American Citizen right to serve on a Jury. Unfortunately, no one wants to do it. Because they have other things to. And it pays like crap. So federal, state and local governments continue to force citizens to serve mandatory Jury Duty.

A long time ago it was mandatory for every American male over the age of eighteen to serve in the military for two years and the government drafted men into the service to do their duty. However, protests over the Vietnam War made the U.S. Government change its stance on this policy.

I’m thinking it’s time federal, state and local governments changed their stance on Jury Duty.

Right now Jury Duty costs federal, state, and local governments billions in jury allowences ($15-$40 a day), postage and other court costs to send out questionnaires and summonses to residents based on voter lists, tax forms and other mailing lists. Many of the summonses sent to these addresses blindly get thrown away, others are returned to sender because the person moved and others get lost in the mail. Many more get disregarded by people who receive them and just ignore them.

Sure there are threats of punishments of fines and imprisonment for six months, if people don’t show up, but those policies are next to impossible to enforce. Currently with state budges suffering from budget shortfalls, many courts are cutting back on staff and can’t afford to send out court officers to arrest someone for not showing up for Jury Duty. Moreover, there isn’t enough room in the jails right now to imprison someone who skips out on Jury Duty. Many local jails in states like California are so overcrowded with offenders waiting for trial they have to release non-violent prisoners early. Adding people who skip out on Jury Duty would break the bank of most state budgets as they’d have to spend money to feed clothe and house people for such short jail terms.

The reason why mandatory Jury Duty fails is that it flies in the face of what America is about. America is supposed to be a country where people are free to pursue their own happiness. Forcing people to participate in the justice system to pass judgment on others runs counter to what the Constitution is about.

And the current allowance for serving Jury Duty isn’t proportional to modern day wages. And that’s one of the main reasons people are resistant to participating in the justice system as a part of jury of their peers. In most states the Jury allowance ranges from $15- $40 a day. In today’s economy that’s not enough money for a tank of gas to and from the courthouse. If getting people justice in jury trials is supposed to be a high priority in America, shouldn’t it be worth compensating people for it?

I know it’s every person’s constitutional right to a trial by a jury of their peers. And it’s every American Citizen’s right to serve on a jury. But the current jury system just doesn’t work. It’s inefficient, outdated, and doesn’t encourage people to participate in the judicial branch of government.

When the U.S. military switched to volunteer system in the 1970’s it was a change for the better. Recruits were more dedicated and more passionate about doing their duty in the armed forces. Productivity went up. Soldiers became better trained and better skilled. Injuries went down. Casualties went down. Turnover went down. It cost less for the U.S. to wage wars like Desert Storm, and the War on Terror than it did for the Korean and Vietnam conflicts.

In fact the volunteer army has done so well for the U.S. Government over the past 30 years that the top officials at The Pentagon say they don’t want to do drafts anymore. The quality of the soldiers they get from volunteering are much higher than the individuals they’d get a draft pool. These soldiers are more effective in combat, and take their missions much more seriously than draftees. And many of the specialized skills volunteers learn would be hard to teach to a draftee who doesn’t want to be there.

If volunteers improved the military so dramatically, could they change to the criminal justice system for the better as well?

I’m thinking a change from a mandatory to a volunteer jury system would have a tremendous impact on improving the courts. Having jurors be there because they want to be there would mean they’d be more involved in the trials. That they’d pay more attention to the facts of the testimony in the cases. That they wouldn’t rush through the case just to get to a verdict and off a jury roll for six to eight years.

With volunteers I’m thinking the quality of justice would improve across the country. That many poorer people would have a better chance at a fair trial. Even though the American justice system says it’s innocent until proven guilty, it’s a known fact that District Attorneys often have an unfair advantage. Because prosecutors have unlimited resources they can spend more money than defendants who are often poor and cannot afford an attorney and have to rely on a poorly planned defense from a legal aid lawyer. I’m thinking volunteer juries would pay more attention to details would and provide defendants a fairer chance in a court system where District Attorneys regularly pad their witness list with informants, experts, junkies and other questionable people who provide less than credible testimony.

Volunteer juries would also keep prosecutors and defense lawyers on their toes. It’s a known fact that prosecutors and defense attorneys often try to find a jury of the stupidest people they can find so they can manipulate the verdict to their favor. Some wealthier defendants even hire jury experts so they can ensure the jury has the kind of personalities that will ensure an outcome of not guilty. However, if the volunteers are paying attention and really listening to the facts and really interested in getting justice, it’d be a lot harder for prosecutors and trial lawyers to pull a fast one on the jury.

And in civil cases volunteer juries would help reduce the amount of frivolous lawsuits. The court system all over the country is backlogged with lawsuits regarding slip and falls, car accidents, malpractice lawsuits, and . A good chunk of these cases are waiting for a jury not to get justice but to get paid. Trial Lawyers love the current jury system because it provides them with jurors who are apathetic and indifferent and don’t really listen to the facts. In fact they benefit from these juries because they often win large cash awards from their verdicts.

I’m thinking if the plaintiff and the defendant had to contend with a serious judge and a focused jury of volunteers they’d settle matters very quickly out-of-court and take the judicial system a bit more seriously.

And long-term a volunteer jury system would save billions in court costs and legal fees. Not to mention millions of dollars on postage that is lost on summonses that are thrown away, lost or just ignored. It would mean less downtime for people who spend up to two weeks in jury waiting rooms, and speed up how cases are processed through the judicial system.

How would such a system be implemented? An online application? Or maybe people coming down to the courthouse? After applying people could be on call until time of Jury selection for a trial, then called down when it’s time for a trial? These are the approaches the military uses to call soldiers up for service.

How would such a system compensate? In today’s economy I’m thinking people’s time is worth $100-$125 a day. Sure it’d be a bit more expensive than the current $15-$40 a day some states offer, but if government wants better quality jurors who will be more attentive, make better decisions, and take the process of the justice system seriously then I feel it’s worth the higher price. And making this allowance tax free with no penalties would really would make people eager to serve on juries.

And who would be the recruits for an all-volunteer jury? Who would be a jury of our peers if everyone is working? The unemployed? The Homeless? Welfare recipients? Hippies? Starving artists, struggling writers and struggling actors? People working night jobs? Part-time workers? I’m thinking the pool will be just as diverse as before. Maybe municipal employers and businesses would continue to make allowances for their employees to volunteer. But I’m sure a $100 a day jury allowance will bring more volunteers to the pool; people who would have avoided Jury Duty in the past due to the low pay. And if the government made the jury allowance money tax free and unable to be claimed as income for social programs and I know the jury room would be so full of people there wouldn’t be room to hold them all.

I’m just brainstorming, but I feel it’s time the U.S. Court system asked volunteers to be a part of its jury system instead of trying to force Americans to do their civic duty. I feel this kind of change to the U.S. justice system would make it more efficient and more effective. I feel it would make people more passionate about participating in their government’s judicial process. I feel volunteer jury system would have prevented aberrations of justice like Casey Anthony case, the police officers who were acquitted of the rape of a woman in New York, The Central Park Jogger case, the Rodney King Case and the OJ Simpson case and the numerous wrongful convictions of poor African-American men.

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