Why Jury Duty Matters

Recently, I received a summons for jury duty. The summons made me think about the importance of showing up for jury duty. Jury duty might seem inconvenient or even boring. But before you start searching for ways to get out of jury duty, remember this: Jury service is not only your legal duty; it is your chance to help ensure that our system of justice works.

Juries play a crucial role in our legal system. Read on to learn the many reasons why jury duty matters.

Why Jury Duty Matters: What Juries and Jurors Do

In all types of trials, many questions must be answered. If the question involves a legal issue, a judge will answer it. But if the question involves the facts of a case, a jury will decide. Juries also decide credibility issues.

Here’s an example: Assume that a car accident occurs and there are two witnesses, a man and a woman. One says the plaintiff caused the accident; the other says that the defendant did. The question of whether either of these witnesses should testify is a legal issue that the judge must decide. However, the all-important decision of which witness should be believed is up to the jury.

Jurors serve another important function in Alabama personal injury cases. If the jury decides that the defendant caused the plaintiff’s injuries, the jury will then determine how much money the plaintiff should receive. The ability to help decide compensation is just one of the many reasons why jury duty matters.

How Juries are Chosen

The jury selection process contains several steps. First, the circuit court must decide how to identify potential jurors. In Alabama, potential jurors can be drawn from the voter registration list, the list of licensed drivers, or both. This list of potential jurors is known as a source list.

Second, using the source list, the court clerk will randomly choose a specified number of people. These people will get summons for jury duty.

Third, once the summonses are sent, people must respond. Some people – such as those who are not physically or mentally able to serve – will be excused by the clerk. However, those who are not automatically excused must report to court.

Fourth, those who are chosen must come to court. The lawyers will ask questions to ensure that the jurors can be fair. (For instance, most lawyers ask if the jurors know the plaintiff or defendant.) This process – known as voir dire – helps the lawyers determine which jurors are best for their case. If a lawyer feels that the juror would be bad for their case, they can ask the judge to strike them.

Finally, the persons selected for jury duty through voir dire hear the evidence and then provide the verdict.

Jury service may be inconvenient, but courts pay jurors for their service. Also, after you serve on a jury, you’re usually excused from further jury service for a few years afterward.

Why Diverse Juries Matter

Though many people feel that jury duty is no big deal, every juror’s vote matters. A jury with diverse lives and perspectives is a better jury. As Andrew Guthrie Ferguson stated in his book, Why Jury Duty Matters: A Citizen’s Guide to Constitutional Action, “the research shows that a diverse jury took longer to deliberate, tended to discuss a wider range of issues, and on average, was more accurate in understanding the facts.”  

This is particularly true for jurors who represent marginalized groups.

While the consequences of imbalanced juries in criminal cases are well-known, you might be surprised to know that diversity matters in civil cases as well. Sadly, white male victims usually receive higher damages awards than men of color and women. The lack of jury diversity may play a role. Experts have consistently found that factors such as race, gender, age, and income can affect a juror’s willingness to award compensation. Generally, people of color, women, and those who have experienced poverty are more inclined to award damages, though there are some variations. Unconscious prejudices against other groups – also known as implicit bias – can lead jurors to make unfair assumptions about others. 

A story shared by a Florida attorney tells an all-too-familiar tale. His client, an African American woman with a master’s degree was offered a paltry settlement of $12,000. Though the offer was later increased to $300,000, the amount did not reflect the years of surgeries and suffering. Eventually, the jury awarded the woman $1.57 million. The lawyer noted that the award likely came because the only black juror – who had initially been an alternate – became the foreperson of the jury.

Making the jury pool more diverse is just one reason why jury duty matters. Each juror’s personal experiences add to the richness of the jury’s decision-making process.

Why Aren’t Juries More Diverse?

Since experts know that diverse juries are important, why isn’t every jury diverse? Though there are many reasons, here are a few reasons.

  • Lack of Geographic Diversity – As the old saying goes, “You can’t get blood from a stone.” Similarly, it’s difficult to seat a diverse jury in a city or county with little diversity.
  • Bad Source Lists – Source lists that include only registered voters tend to be less diverse than those that also include licensed drivers.   
  • Excluding Felons. – Alabama, like many other states, forbids those convicted of crimes from serving on juries. However, Alabama’s prohibition is permanent, while some other states restore these persons’ eligibility after a period of time.
  • Bad Behavior by Lawyers – All lawyers get to strike a certain number of potential jurors for any reason. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the American Constitution prevents lawyers from striking people based on their race or gender. However, some lawyers still find creative ways around these rules.
  • Undelivered Summonses – People of color and poor persons tend to move more often than other groups. This means that they may not receive a jury summons.

While these flaws affect the jury system, the good news is that courts are aware of these issues. Court administrators are working hard to address these problems.

A Final Word on Why Jury Duty Matters

Hopefully, this post has convinced you that you should take your next jury summons seriously. Your presence on the jury can not only improve the legal system, but also change someone’s life. You could be the difference between someone getting a fair award and getting barely enough to pay their medical bills. If you get a summons, please go to court. Also, make sure that you register to vote and keep your address updated.

If you have more questions about why jury duty matters or other personal injury issues, please contact Collins Law, LLC. Our firm prides itself on working hard for every client. If you’ve been injured, call (205) 881-0403or click here to schedule a free consultation.