Prose and Cons: Call of Duty

By: Judge Steven G. Rogers

The few. The proud. The chosen.

“I don’t believe in your whole system here,” said the gentleman as he looked me in the eye. Rather contentious language for our initial meeting. Especially when considering this statement was his request to be excused from one of the principles upon which our legal system is founded … jury duty.

The right to a jury trial in criminal and civil cases is guaranteed by the sixth and seventh amendments to the U.S. Constitution. With rights come responsibilities and our court system cannot guarantee these rights without responsible citizens willing to serve as jurors.

In Marion County, prospective jurors are selected by a computer program which compiles a random list from the Florida driver license and identification card databases. But not everyone is excited with their winning the “prospective juror lottery.”

Requests to be excused from jury duty are regular occurrence. Some of these requests are genuine and authorized by law. They include expectant mothers, full-time law enforcement officers, and individuals over the age of 70 who do not wish to serve. Even the Governor and Lieutenant Governor are excused from jury service.

Aside from the authorized excuses listed above, the second most common requests fall under the hardship category. Small business owners and employees comprise the group who state they simply cannot afford to miss time from work. The $15 a day juror pay and free lunch is hardly an adequate substitute to those who depend on their normal paychecks.

Schoolteachers will often ask for their jury service to be postponed until the summer months. Others have claimed physical limitations which prevent them from sitting for long periods of time.

Then there are those who have requested to be excused from jury duty for other, atypical reasons. Aside from the “I don’t believe in your whole system here” comment, I’ve also had jurors tell me such things as “I was planning on visiting my sister that day,” “I don’t like judges or lawyers,” and—my personal favorite—“I get sick in courtrooms.”

One reason people are reluctant to serve on a jury is the fear their being selected is going to require significant personal sacrifices, such as being sequestered away from work and family for several weeks. I explain this may be common practice in John Grisham novels but is definitely the exception to the rule in actual cases. Most circuit court jury trials are completed in less than a week, and rarely does a county court jury trial last more than a single day.

So the next time you retrieve your mail and find a jury summons with your name on it, consider yourself special. The few. The proud. The chosen. Citizens willing to serve as jurors in civil and criminal cases are necessary to protecting the longstanding rights afforded to us under the United States Constitution. As a sign of our appreciation, we will even include a free lunch.   

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