The right to a trial by jury is guaranteed by the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Minnesota. Ordinary citizens from all walks of life are selected randomly to report to the Courthouse to assist their fellow citizens in resolving civil disputes, or to determine whether an accused has been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Sometimes, these summons for jury service come at inconvenient times. A paid-up vacation, a wedding, a graduation all routinely result in jury service being deferred, if the prospective juror notifies the Court about it ahead of time.
On the day of trial, prospective jurors are placed under oath and questioned by the judge and the attorneys. One of the questions I always ask is, “The attorneys have told me they expect it will take [three days] to try this case. Is there anyone on the panel who would find it an extreme hardship to serve on a jury that will take that long?” (By the way, the vast majority of the jury trials over which I have presided lasted three days or less.)
Often, one or more of the jurors will tell me that they just can’t miss work for even another day. I don’t ask them what happens if they become ill, or if the take vacation. Then, I say something like this:
We live in a great country. We have freedoms that most of the world cannot imagine in their wildest dreams. And in return for all the marvelous benefits we receive, our country asks relatively little of us. We are asked to vote. We are required to pay our share of taxes. Some of us are called upon to serve in the armed forces. And, occasionally, we are asked to help resolve legal matters by serving as a juror.
Most of the time, after my “Nickel Speech”, the prospective juror will agree that he or she can find some way to do a citizen’s duty. Occasionally, I have to decide whether the prospective juror may be so distracted by not being at work that he or she cannot pay attention to the trial.
I am heartened by the willingness of the vast majority of citizens called for jury duty that they are willing to participate in our system of justice. It has been my privilege, for a quarter century, to join them in a quest for justice, one case at a time.
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Next week: Gavels