Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Replacing Mandatory Jury Duty with Voluntary Jury Service

I recently posted a blog entry entitled Post Mortem on Jury Duty in which I narrated my recent experiences pursuant to being summoned for jury duty by the Los Angeles County Superior Court. In this followup post, I will consider the issue of whether mandatory jury duty should become voluntary jury service. As a matter of course, I will cover the advantages of the One-Day or One-Trial [pdf] system that California has recently adopted for jury duty.

As a lifelong libertarian, I rail against virtually all government-imposed duties, and mandatory jury duty is no exception. However, as a practical matter, I acknowledge the fact that the oligarchical government collective is much more powerful than I am as an individual, and I am not interested in fighting this particular quixotic ideological battle over jury duty, as jury duty is one of the least objectionable duties that the government imposes on me.

If mandatory jury duty became strictly voluntary jury service, I would probably be willing to step up to the plate on those occasions when my number comes up, other things being equal. At the same time, I do not believe that this makes mandatory jury duty any more of a legitimate form of government action. To wit, no innocent third party should feel obligated to put his or her life on hold just because The Man wants to put someone in jail. Similarly, no disinterested third party should feel obligated to put his or her life on hold because two or more civil litigants are unable to resolve their personal legal disputes.

Like many other states, California recently implemented the One-Day or One Trial system of jury duty. Under this system, you can discharge your legal obligation to perform jury duty by being on call for five days and/or showing up at the courthouse to which you are assigned on one of those five days if and when your presence is required. If and when you are required to show up at the courthouse, you become part of the pool of potential jurors; if you are not assigned to a courtroom by the end of the day, you will have discharged your obligation to perform your jury duty and cannot be summoned for jury duty again for at least twelve months.

Under the One-Day or One-Trial system, many people who call in for the full five days do not even have to show up at a courthouse. Of those people who do have to show up, most do not even get assigned to a courtroom; even fewer are selected to serve on a jury. Those who do have to serve on a jury are usually done with their jury service in five to seven days; when jury duty for a particular case is expected to last longer, the court can excuse those people who would suffer a hardship. In other words, the overall inconvenience of being a juror has been greatly reduced by the One-Day or One-Trial system. However, the underlying question remains: Should jury duty be mandatory?

There's a school of thought that mandatory jury duty is a necessary evil. Pursuant to such a school of thought, the ends justify the means. However, the means one chooses to employ have a way of defining and changing the ends one pursues, so when one employs unjust means, one ends up achieving unjust ends. Mandatory jury duty is no exception, as many potential jurors are people who have been shanghaied by the courts and who do not have the wherewithal to come up with an excuse that the court will accept.

There are many people who genuinely believe that it is their duty as a citizen to serve on a jury, and just as many people who wouldn't mind serving on a jury if there were some sort of tangible benefit for doing so. As such, replacing mandatory jury duty with voluntary jury service would mean providing incentives to people who might not otherwise be willing to serve as a juror, such as financial aid for students and tax breaks for the wealthy. Even voting rights and access to the courts for civil remedies could be tied to jury service. In sum, there is no reason for mandatory jury duty.

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