Jury duty and civic responsibility

An Indiana judge recently vented about low response rates for the summons to jury duty. In doing so, he hit on a pet point we make at the Jury & Democracy Project–that jury duty is like voting. Here’s a quick excerpt from the article:

To be an American citizen comes with two major responsibilities, says St. Joseph Superior Court Judge Michael Scopelitis: Voting and jury duty.

Voting, of course, is not mandatory, he said, but jury duty is just that – an obligation.

It’s this responsibility that Scopelitis and other judges said St. Joseph County residents are failing to comply with at staggering rates, leading to wasted funds and the inability to seat full juries.

“It’s been disturbing,” Scopelitis said of jury responses in the last year. “People are ignoring the one duty of citizenship.”

Just glad to see jury duty connected to voting. Our own book on this shows that serving on juries inspires higher voting rates, so it’s not just a hypothetical-legal connection. It’s a real one in people’s minds, too.

I can’t help but add one more note: There is one particular civic responsibility that often gets overlooked: paying taxes. It’s not a “proud and honorable” duty like voting or serving on a jury, but perhaps it should be. Whether one wants higher or lower taxes, one must concede that taxation is a necessity and doing so with integrity (i.e., not cheating the IRS or other tax collection agencies) is not just about ethics but also civic responsibility.

The moral of all this? While you can’t avoid death or taxes, apparently you can avoid jury duty. But you shouldn’t.

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About jgastil

John Gastil is Head and Professor in the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences at The Pennsylvania State University, where he specializes in political deliberation and group decision making.
This entry was posted in Social/political impact of juries, Summoning juries. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Jury duty and civic responsibility

  1. John Brown says:

    I recently received notification that I was disqualified from jury duty. I called up to find out why. They state that I checked box stating that I was convicted of a felony or misdemeanor. I explained that I was convicted of misdemeanor for an altercation after a traffic accident over 20 years ago where I was given probation. They state that it would fall under “You must not have been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year”. They explained that I would have to apply for pardon to be eligible for jury duty. I think this should not be constitutional. It feels just like disenfrachisement. I don’t know if it was a crime that was punishable for up to 1 year. This feels exclusionary and goes against everything I believe America to stand for. How can anybody be disqualified for 1 mistake that they made over 20 years ago? It was a very emotional moment when I committed the misdemeanor. My brother’s head went through the windshield of his car. What recourse do I have to fight this?

    • jgastil says:

      It does sound like an unfairness, even if it’s legal practice in whatever county/state you’re in. It is not unlike those states that make it difficult or impossible for former felons to vote after serving their sentences. Unfortunately, few have championed the cause of people like yourself. Applying for a pardon is probably not an effective use of your time, but posting the comment that you did *is* useful (sorry we didn’t see it for so long). We’ll raise this issue when we get the chance.

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