One of the most horrifying phrases I heard spoken in a Greene County courtroom recently was a potential juror saying, “Well, he’s sitting there, isn’t he? I expect he’s guilty of something.”
Think the person receive a fair trial? Maybe, but maybe not.
It is an old concept, but even The Codex Justinianus (the Code of Byzantine Roman Emperor Justinian I), c. A.D. 535, provided: “Rather let the crime of the guilty go unpunished than condemn the innocent.”
More recently, even Benjamin Franklin is famously quoted as saying, “That it is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer, is a Maxim that has been long and generally approved.”
It is with that, we say, please consider being a jury member. Participate in democracy, and participate in America.
Judges see jurors as their partners in justice and an integral part of a fair and impartial judicial process. In a new, five-minute installment in the Court Shorts video series, eleven federal judges bring attention to the central role of citizens in maintaining public trust in the justice system.
“In order for the law to have the respect of the citizenry, it’s important that the citizenry be a part of that decision-making process,” said Judge Reggie B. Walton, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Federal judges discussing the significance of jury service in the video include: Chief Judge Juan R. Sánchez and Judge Cynthia M. Rufe, Eastern District of Pennsylvania; Chief Judge Rodney W. Sippel and Judge Catherine D. Perry, Eastern District of Missouri; Judge Reggie B. Walton and Magistrate Judge Zia M. Faruqui, District of Columbia; Judge Martha Vázquez, District of New Mexico; Judge Kiyo A. Matsumoto, Eastern District of New York; Chief Judge Scott W. Skavdahl, District of Wyoming; Judge Beth Bloom, Southern District of Florida; and retired Magistrate Judge Linda R. Anderson, Southern District of Mississippi.
“It’s called a jury of your peers because who better to judge you than people who have walked a mile in your shoes,” Faruqui said. “So many of us want an opportunity to serve our community. We don’t know how we can do it. A fundamental way that you can ensure our democracy is vibrant and effective is by jury service.”
Many jurors find their service rewarding and walk away from the experience impressed by the judicial process. They also are surprised to know that most trials last one to three days.
“Jury duty is direct participation in our democracy,” Sánchez said. “We live in a system where no one could be deprived of life, liberty, or property without consulting the citizens, you directly.”
The jury service video deals with Constitutional principles and the practicalities of jury service. It is part of the Court Shorts video series that includes installments on the rule of law(link is external) and separation of powers(link is external).