Sunday, June 12, 2016

We need rural jury selection reform

For a sizable population across Maryland, jury service means there are one or two days every ten years or so that a citizen is summoned for jury service.  Selected citizens whine and complain about it, show up for their service begrudgingly, and then forget about the experience until the next ten years or so rolls around and they get called again.  Some would say that one of the advantages of living in or near a major metropolitan area is one rarely is called for jury service.  If a developer wants rural folk to move to a metropolitan area, they have a selling point.  "Jury service only comes around about every ten years, give or take a couple of years and it's only for a day or two!"

Yes, I recognize the jury pool in rural communities is limited and citizens in rural communities are called upon for service more frequently - in fact, much more frequently - than their metropolitan counterparts.  

In the ten years I lived in Phoenix, AZ, not once was I called for jury service.  In the ten years I lived in Baltimore, I was called once for a one day obligation.  I moved back home to Delmarva and, in the last ten years, I have been called to duty eight times.  Unlike in Baltimore, where I was called for a one day service and I knew two months in advance which day that was, Dorchester County called me for an entire month.  I didn't need to report to court every day that month.  Instead, they put me on call.  It was my responsibility to call every night during the month or check their website to see if I were needed the next day in court.

Ok, admit it.  Ain't this your sentiment
when you receive a jury summons?
Now stop and think about this.  The court is imposing a requirement upon me - and every other selected citizen - for an entire month to be available at last minute notice to be in court the next day.  Failure to show up at court the next day, if one is called, is a criminal offense (permanent on your criminal record) and punishable by fines and jail time.  Sheriffs showed up at my job to haul one of these "criminals" away.

My philosophy, and one I hope to be reflected in law, is that no citizen called for jury duty is assumed to be an employee of the court for the duration of his assigned service and assumed to be a criminal if he/she neglects to "check in" the night before.  No jury service requirement should put an undue burden on the average citizen.

We need jury selection reform as the laws pertain to rural communities.  It is not the responsibility of prospective jurors to call in to see if they are needed the next day.  It is the responsibility of the court to notify the prospective juror he/she will be needed the next day - and that notification needs to be given in enough time so that the employer of the prospective juror can make accommodations for the prospective juror's absence.  If the court decides that it is the responsibility of the prospective juror to call in every night for a month, there better be a check in the mail the day before.  The average citizens' time is just as valuable as every courts employee's time and there's a price on that.  The court should also be willing to make exceptions, especially in today's changing job market, to exempt, without question, certain citizens from jury service.

Every citizen has an obligation to be available to serve on a jury. When called, every citizen should take the responsibility seriously and with honor. When the judicial system places undue expectations and hardships on the average citizen, however, then the system begins to break down. Laws for rural jury selection need to be re-evaluated and changed to meet the changing rural communities needs and changing economy and workforce demands. The nineteenth century selection process patched with a couple of twentieth century bandages is beyond repair. A complete overhaul of the process is needed.

TL;DR Folks:
In this day of age where government employees (including the elected ones) have forgotten they are public servants here to serve the public by the public's consent and not here to rule the people, the "system" has made jury service a chore instead of an honorable civic duty.  It's time to take the nineteenth century selection process patched with a couple of twentieth century bandages and completely overhaul the jury selection process.

For you listening pleasure:

Related Links:
Jury Reform Proposed Changes

Think you have free speech? Think again

Posted by Five Drunk Rednecks

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