A Jury of Your Peers

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"I just got my juror summons. What excuse should I use to get off the hook?"

I hear this comment more often than I like. As a judge who presides over a busy criminal courtroom, I see first-hand the volume of criminal trials needing assignment to courtrooms. Each courtroom in turn needs 12 impartial jurors and at least two alternate jurors to ensure that their fellow citizens obtain their constitutional right to a jury trial.

In criminal cases, it is extremely important that the collective and unanimous decision of 12 jurors be expressed before someone is sent to jail or even state prison. While I am certain people realize how important jury service is, I also know how busy we all are and what an inconvenience jury service can be.

Yet, for those who will not suffer true hardship, I'd like to add another reason for serving. Jury service is a form of education, one that improves the fabric of our society. This is not my original observation. It comes from Alexis De Tocqueville, who nearly 180 years ago observed that jury service is a type of public school in which each juror learns to exercise his or her rights, and to become practically acquainted with the laws of our country.

As a judge, I've seen jury after jury work hard, listen diligently and return fair decisions. Their collective efforts are critical to maintaining the legitimacy of our justice system. But in the process, something else happens too. Jurors get exposed to the thoughts of 11 other community members and their life experiences. They get to think about the law and its effect on people's lives.


Tocqueville was right when he concluded that the "practical intelligence and political good sense of Americans are mainly attributable to the long use which they made of the jury."

So next time when you get that summons, don't think about how to get off. Think of every possible way to make the service work. Our society and you will both be better for it.

With a Perspective, I'm Andrew Cheng.