The L.A. Times had an interesting article about how the recession has changed the attitude of jurors. The article was depressing. Citizens of this great country were refusing to do their civic duty. Jury duty is one of our civic duties.
Paying taxes, registration for the selective service, and jury duty are the only obligations that the government imposes on its citizens. In return for these obligations, we have a country with a strong military, freedoms to practice religion and speech, and the right to participate in governance. The first and most important concept is the role of the jury. The job of the jury is to answer questions of fact as presented by the evidence in the case. The jury determines the validity of the evidence as it may apply to the law as explained by the judge. The jury also must be able to judge the credibility of witnesses that testify before the court. While an attorney in a case may attempt to present evidence in a certain light, they are only presenting their view of that evidence. The opinion of the evidence that matters is the opinion of the jury. The concept of the fair and impartial jury of one’s peers is paramount to our legal system. To be fair and impartial, members of the jury need to be intellectually honest. That means they must be able to evaluate the facts presented in the trial without prejudice.
In this time of double-digit unemployment and shrinking benefits for those who do have jobs, courts are finding it more difficult to seat juries for trials running more than a day or two. Reluctance has escalated into rebellion, experts say. Money woes inflicted by the recession have spurred hardship claims, especially by those called for long cases, say jury consultants and courtroom administrators.
More than a quarter of all qualified jurors were released on hardship grounds last year, according to court statistics. And judges say they have seen more people request such dismissals in the last year. With shrinking budgets, courts are under pressure to do more with less. Los Angeles County courthouses were summoning 55,000 people a week, at $15 a day each, until the economic crisis imposed more belt-tightening. The county is now making do with 45,000 summonses a week — only about half are even answered — compelling stricter scrutiny of those claiming financial, medical and child-care problems, Gomez said. The county has also tightened sanctions for repeat no-shows, imposing fines of as much as $1,500.