Jurors as Second-Class Citizens

gavel1a.jpgRecently, I blogged about Professor Robert Martin’s article about his experience serving as a juror. He makes another point in his article that is worth discussing:

[J]urors might easily conclude that they receive second-rate treatment – despite platitudes extolling their invaluable contributions. In our case, for instance, we were informed that the trial would be extended an extra day to accommodate a physician scheduled to testify for the defense. Yet neither the judge nor lawyers bothered to inquire whether that accommodation would conflict with jurors’ schedules, thus ultimately forcing one (unemployed) juror to cancel a job interview and another to rearrange long-standing travel plans.

Other seemingly small matters proved irritating. Jurors were cautioned that they could not drink water during the trial because it would be “distracting” . . . . Moreover, during the morning and afternoon “coffee” breaks, jurors were sequestered in the back room without any amenities – including coffee. And needless to say, jurors were keenly aware that the five- dollar per diem compensation that they would eventually receive would barely cover the cost of lunch, let alone the cost of gas for travel to and from the courthouse.

Yet, paradoxically, when it ultimately came time to render a verdict, our jury was then bestowed with immense power and responsibility.

We subsidize our legal system on what is essentially free labor, for we barely pay jurors for their time. Many employers still pay the salaries of people on jury duty (though not all employers), but even under these circumstances, somebody else (employers) are subsidizing the system.

Imagine the juror who is self-employed and must sit on a two-week contract dispute. She might ask: Why should I be forced to help these two parties resolve their dispute? Why should I, one who has little expertise in their business, contract law, or anything related to their case, be the one to resolve it? Why should I have to sacrifice my time and two weeks of earning money to help these people solve their squabble?

If we are going to have a lay jury system, shouldn’t we at least have society pick up the costs rather than slough them off on randomly-selected people? Shouldn’t we pay jurors the true value of their time? Or at least a reasonable rate?

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7 Responses

  1. Jason Mazzone says:

    It depends on whether you think serving on a jury is, like voting, akin to participation in public life or is, as your hypothetical juror sees it, a service to private parties who can’t solve their own problems. If it is the former and your juror is paid the value of her time, thereby becoming in essence hired help, she won’t be able to tell herself (and others) she is contributing to democratic government. As in voting, it is only when the cost involved exceeds the likely personal benefit that we can claim we have fulfilled a civic duty.

  2. J. says:

    Jurors should at least be paid the current minimum wage rate of the state at the time that they serve. That’s still underpaying them but it would be at least a slight raise from the current $5 a day that they get.

    What’s really needed is an overall of the system to actually make it so people don’t have reason to loathe jury duty. I’m not saying people will ever like it but it wouldn’t take much to make it less undesireable.

  3. moz says:

    It would definitely be a good idea to start with the basic courtesies you mention, and perhaps treat jurors less as conscripts and more as voluntary participants. What’s the penalty for a juror who simply says “I have something else to do, I will not be attending” in a case like the one you describe? I’m assuming there is no way to get even monetary compensation, let alone (say) payment for everyone involved in order to re-schedule a wedding.

    The political problem with paying people is that it would mean state recognition of the gross disparities in income. Should jurors all receive the same daily rate … as a senator? Or should the unemployed juror not be paid at all while the surgeon on the jury gets her usual daily rate? This is especially problematic for the self-employed as our “pay rate” is so hard to determine. For some of my friends a pro rata rate would not be fair, as they make very few sales a year and costing them a sale might easily halve their income for that year.

    Interestingly, in Australia being on jury duty does exempt jurors from the reporting requirements and other obligations involved in getting unemployment benefits. Otherwise serving on the jury would be a clear breach of the requirement to be actively looking for work (and available to start).

  4. moz says:

    Tying this back to the post about professional jurors, one issue there is that it is randomly available part time work where jurors would have mixed incentives. If paid per trial they would have every incentive to game the system to produce short trials, but if on a salary they would try to avoid selection.

    Permanent jurors also provide a convenient target for corruption, much as judges do now. Would we need to provide the same job security and salary as judges get? Or merely the same standards as legal aid lawyers (“jurors must be present, not necessarily awake”).

  5. A.W. says:

    I have long jokingly given the formula for getting out of jury duty. Just say “fry ’em” before they get five words out. Like here’s how it works.

    Judge: Do you think you can impartially…

    Me: Fry ’em!

    J: But, this isn’t a death penalty c–

    M: I said, fry ’em!

    J: This is a contract dispute…

    M: FRY ‘EM!

    So that’s how it works. You’re welcome. 😀

  6. Alexandra de Shazo says:

    Unlike voting, jury duty is [at least in theory] a civic obligation rather than a civil right. Society has yet to declare that people who do not vote deserve a penalty.

    Professional jurors are a terrible idea for the reason Moz mentioned. It would hardly burden the court system to accommodate jurors considering the back bends I’ve seen them do to accommodate attorney vacation schedules.

  7. Jens says:

    Here in Germany, we don’t have juries or jurors, only lay judges. Their trial dates are scheduled far in advance, as far as I know … And you become that for 4 years or something like that.

    5$ per day … That much less than what an election committee member gets here for one Sunday of work.