Understanding our duty

Jury service can be inconvenient, but it's still important

We don’t claim powers of mind-reading lightly. But we’re fairly certain we know what a lot of folks were thinking when they read about a recent criminal case in Athens.


A stepfather there has been charged with beating a 16-year-old boy after finding him in the shower with his 16-year-old stepdaughter.

Now, we don’t endorse the notion, but we know a lot of people had to think, “Put me on that jury! No way should this guy be convicted!”

While we don’t support the thought – a crime is a crime – we certainly understand the sentiment.

But we would further remind such people that being on a jury is no piece of cake – a fact that a frustrated potential juror in Augusta wrote to us about on Wednesday’s editorial page.

The writer said she and other prospective jurors waited around about three hours Monday morning; were told to line up; were told just as quickly to sit back down; were dismissed for lunch; and upon return from lunch were dismissed altogether.

Again, we completely understand the writer’s frustrations. We’ve been there ourselves. Perhaps you have too.

Now, it must be said that it’s just flat impossible to eliminate inconveniences to prospective jurors, and for good reason: Those charged with crimes have very important rights to protect, rights that all of us enjoy. And while most of us will never be put in their position, the decision of whether to proceed with a trial or enter a plea is a monumental, life-changing one.

And often, that decision comes at the last minute – for good reasons. Defendants sometimes need the hot breath of jurors on their necks, and witnesses peering over their shoulders, to be properly inspired to admit their guilt or take a plea deal.

Judges and others in the system have to respect a defendant’s right to do that, or they risk having cases overturned on appeal.

Moreover, plea deals, while not always popular, help the system process tons more cases than it could if every case went to trial.

And when you think about it, if a potential juror has motivated a criminal to cop a plea, maybe it hasn’t been wasted time after all.

Having said that, however, it sure feels like a waste when you’re the one sitting there. And our letter writer figured the court ate up over $11,000 in jury fees.

One court official has expressed a willingness to take another look at the system to see if there are any changes that can be made to impose fewer inconveniences on prospective jurors without violating the rights of alleged offenders. We appreciate that.

Jury service is perhaps our second-most important civic duty, next to voting. It’s incumbent on the system to make it as painless as possible.

Except when there’s a case where lots of folks would gladly wait in line to be on a jury.



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