If You’re Called For Jury Service: Show Up, of Course

Image of Jury with black shadows of people, representing a full jury.From: Skeptic Files

IF YOU’RE CALLED FOR JURY SERVICE: Show up, of course, with your conscience as your guide. The court will usually ask the assembled jury pool, from which a jury or juries will be drawn, if anyone knows either the defendant or the plaintiff, and whether anyone has any reason why he or she would be unable to render a fair verdict. These are appropriate concerns, and most people, ourselves included, have no problem with questions of this sort. We urge you to answer honestly, out of respect for the defendant’s right to a fair and impartial jury. But what about questions which you feel invade your privacy, or simply embarrass you? Should you refuse to answer? Or should you spill your guts at every question? Should you tell the judge and lawyers only what they want to hear? Or what you want them to hear? Or…? And what about the oath you’ll be asked to take–to “follow the law as given by the court, even if you disagree with it?” Should you cross your fingers while swearing to abide…? No one can supply answers for anyone else to moral questions like these, so we won’t try. Nor does FIJA offer legal advice, because we’re not lawyers. But–it should be abundantly clear–we believe fully informed decisions are better than choices made in ignorance, so we are happy to supply some considerations which may be of value to you when you receive notice to show up for jury duty, along with some tips to help you understand your role as a juror: (1) Your Fourth Amendment right to privacy and your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent apply–even during the jury selection process, or “voir dire”, where rough questions are often asked. (For example: “Have you ever been raped, madam?”)

Refusal to answer may cost you an opportunity to serve, so you have a moral choice to make if you believe that justice in this case could depend upon you being empaneled, or you feel that you have a duty or responsibility to the community to serve on this jury which outweighs having to make some difficult choices, including choices which may embarrass or inconvenience you, or which will entail invasion of your privacy. (2) The judge is granted no authority by the Constitution or by any Supreme Court ruling, by common law or by any traditional American legal doctrine, to require the jury to take an oath to follow the law as he explains it or, for that matter, to “instruct” the jury to do anything.

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