Understanding our duty

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

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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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Riverman1 04/04/14 - 06:16 am
Our Duty Under Common Law

Jury nullification is a right under English Common Law which is the basis of our law. In Colonial times, colonists often refused to convict those being tried in the King’s courts. That’s our heritage from our forefathers who wrote the Constitution with this in mind.

The jury has a perfect right to acquit those being tried for breaking an unjust law even though many judges would instruct differently. Juries are not a rubber stamp for the prosecutor, judge and government. In courts today the power of the jury is repressed by the governmental and legal system officials who fear their diminished importance.

Realize the duty and authority of the jury such as with grand juries where the jurors can ask the prosecutor to leave the court and proceed with their own line of questions and investigation. The legal establishment pejoratively calls these independent minded grand juries “run-away juries.” I view them as doing their constitutional-common law duty.

Put me on a grand jury and I’ll inform the other jurors of our duty independent of the district attorney or the judge. The Chronicle would have something to write about for days with all the commotion such a move would make.

deestafford 04/04/14 - 07:51 am
Let me ask a question here....

Let me ask a question here. Assume you were accused of a crime you did not commit. Now, assume the 12 members of the jury who were going to decide whether or not your freedom was going to be taken away were "too stupid to get out of jury duty"?

Think about that the next time you get a summons to decide someone's future.

seenitB4 04/04/14 - 08:37 am
Shirking Jury Duty

Is the same thing as turning your head when you see a robbery in progress.
Just do it & you won't regret it.

corgimom 04/04/14 - 08:46 am
It speaks volumes as to our

It speaks volumes as to our society that somebody would complain about being on jury duty.

It's just plain sad.

robaroo 04/04/14 - 02:15 pm
No Reading Materials While You Wait

It's been a few years since I was last picked for jury duty. Maybe it's changed now, but at the time I couldn't take a newspaper or novel to read while we waited. So not only do you wait and wait, you can't do much more than talk or stare at the ceiling.

jimmymac 04/04/14 - 09:51 pm

It's the duty of all citizens to insure the survival of our justice system. I agree with Riverman as I would also ignore instructions of the judge if I sat on that man's jury. If you go you'll often see why such ridiculous decisions occur. Qualified potential jurists often find a way to get out of serving and it often leads the dregs of society making decisions over their heads.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 04/06/14 - 09:54 am
Never Called

Yeah, Dichotomy, I've been living in Richmond County for thirty years, and I've never been summoned for jury duty.

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