Ah, how the Internet brings out honesty. The Grand Rapids Press column “Law Talk” invites readers to ask legal questions and get helpful advice. A reader recently asked the brazen question, “How do I get out of jury duty?”
Here, we comment on the reply by the Law Talk-er (Barton Deiters):
Kent County Circuit Court Judge Paul Sullivan points out that jury duty is virtually the only expectation of service put upon citizens since the military draft was abolished in
True, depending on how you slice it. Paying taxes counts in some tallies. And though voting is not compulsory, our interviews in The Jury & Democracy found that voting was one of the civic duties to which jurors liked to compare their service at the courthouse.
But, if people have medical appointments, out-of-town vacations, loved ones to care for or have a legitimate rationale, judges will work to accommodate. Also anyone older than 70 or has been convicted of a felony crime can be automatically excluded. Also, no one in Kent County is supposed to serve on a jury more than once a year.
All quite true, and judges generally seek to assemble pools of willing and able jurors. They only play hard-ball when they sense that someone’s just “trying to get out” for their own personal convenience.
“We don’t want to make it more of a burden than it has to be,” Sullivan said.
Also true, as courts across the U.S. have changed jury duty rules to make it easier of prospective jurors.
Most trials last no longer than a week and often are done only between 8:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. letting people get home or back to work.
Surprising that the jurors have to scram at 1pm, but maybe that’s why trials apparently often last a week in this jurisdiction. In the ones we studied, a typical trial was just two days or at least less than a full week.
Sullivan says attitude goes a long way. He says there are three kinds of reactions to serving on a jury, there are people who look forward to it, there are people will do whatever it takes to weasel out of it and there is the largest group that understands that while it is something of an intrusion, it is a requirement.
We would only hope that Sullivan and others would say explicitly that jury duty is more than a “requirement.” It is a unique opportunity to participate in self-government. A democracy run by the people, for the people, includes many such opportunities. This one happens to be compulsory, but it remains a chance for people to exercise a measure of control over their government and society and to educate themselves as citizens.
The final disappointment is that the Law Talk column didn’t include this clip from 30 Rock. We love you, Tina Fey. But sorry, we still want you on our jury, should we ever run afoul of the law.