A Philosopher's Blog

Jury Duty (Again)

Posted in Law, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on May 1, 2011
Jury Duty (film)

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A while back I received a letter informing me that I was being considered for Federal jury duty. I was required to either mail in a questionnaire or fill it out on the web. I elected for the web option, although one would assume that the feds could just email Google and learn everything they need to know about anyone. Or perhaps they do not even need to do that-Google probably knows when to send them information.

A bit after that I got another letter telling me that I had been summoned. I had to fill out yet another for online and a paper form that I am supposed to bring to court.This was yet another confirmation that the government operates in inefficient and redundant ways: why have three forms when one would suffice? Oddly enough, the third form included questions that reminded me of the ones used by dating sites like Match. When I report for duty, the feds will know my favorite TV shows and how I feel about walks on the beach.

Like 99.9% of Americans, I am not a big fan of being summoned for jury duty. With the exception of one lawyer friend (who is young and does not know any better) everyone I have spoken to has expressed a profound dislike of it. I’ve noticed that when I’ve told people about this, they respond in a way comparable to if I had told them I had some sort of illness. Obviously, jury duty is not a very well liked sort of thing.

One reason that jury duty is not well liked is that it pays very poorly. In Tallahassee, the “pay” for federal jury duty is $40 a day. That is not even minimum wage and time spent on jury duty will be a major pay loss for most people. It is, of course, especially bad for people who are self-employed or who are paid by the job or by the hour.If jurors were paid reasonable well, people would probably be more inclined to look at it in a somewhat more positive light.

Naturally, people claim that jury duty is just that, a duty. As such, people should be expected to serve for trifling amounts of money because it is their duty as citizens. While I do find appeals to duty appealing in some cases, this appeal is tarnished by the fact that judges and attorneys are generally paid very well to do their “duty.” If it is to be argued that service to the legal system is a duty that does not merit proper pay, then this principle would seem to justly extend across the board. As such, the judges, attorneys, and other folks in the court should proudly serve for the same “pay” as jurors.

It could be argued that the judges and attorneys attended law school and work harder than jury members. This does have merit since a person’s education and the amount/difficulty of the work done should have an impact on pay. Of course, this would entail that educated jurors should also be paid more and should at least entail that jurors be paid minimum wage. Surely serving on a jury is at least as hard as assembling Big Macs and frying fries.

Pay need not be in a purely monetary form, of course. If people believed that serving on a jury rewarded them in some other manner, then they would probably find it more appealing. For example, if people believed that they were contributing to the general good in a meaningful way, then they might find that rewarding. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case and people, as noted above, tend to see jury duty as a unpleasant, underpaying, and forced burden. There are, of course, some notable exceptions and this is fortunate.

In my own case, I do accept that being a citizen obligates me to contribute to the general good in various ways and this includes serving as a juror. Unfortunately, folks in power often seem inclined to act in ways that tend to diminish my sense of obligation to the general good in the context of serving the state. Fortunately, my commitment to doing what is right in general is unaffected by their actions.

No doubt people also dislike jury duty because it is imposed with a threat behind it (jail time or fine) and it is probably seen as a waste of their time.

From a practical standpoint, the state does have to threaten people. After all, the main alternatives would require paying well enough to make it appealing or to somehow inspire people to accept that such service is an honorable  duty worth performing for a very small amount of money. Neither of these seem likely, so using a threat of force is really the only viable option. After all, I infer that without such a threat, most people would simply not show up. I would, but I also do things like pick up trash in public areas.

As far as the waste of time, some trials are no doubt needless exercises in legality. However, there are no doubt trials that are very important and in some cases a person’s entire future can hang in the balance. in any case, it is hardly a waste of time to play a role in seeing that justice is properly done. At the very least, a person who is called for jury duty should consider what sort of jury they would want if they were on trial.

My overall view is that I would rather that the state paid jurors better and I would prefer a world in which the legal system was such that people regarded serving on a jury as great honor rather than an imposed and underpaid burden. That said, jury duty is, in fact, an important duty and I accept that I am obligated to do my part and do it well so that justice is properly done.

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2 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on May 2, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    Maybe the Feds read your blog post about needing a summer job :-)

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 2, 2011 at 9:09 pm

      That would be mighty kind of them. Actually, when I got the summons I did see the fact that I would be paid as a plus.


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