The USA Today reports that shirking jury duty is an worsening problem. In response, local registrars are becoming punitive:
Tulare jury candidates who fail to show are warned that they could be found in contempt of court. If they do not respond, a second letter is sent, warning that a warrant will be issued for their arrest . . .
In Danville, Ill., a 19-year-old woman was found in contempt of court and sentenced to 14 days in jail for failing to appear for jury duty.
In Topeka, no-shows have been fined up to $100 a day.
In Grand Rapids, Mich., warrants were issued recently for the arrests of 56 people who failed to go to court and explain why they couldn’t serve.
Seriously, jailing citizens for failing to be civic minded is, I think, a bad way of encouraging compliance. Why not try shaming, as the Athenians did with their famous red rope?
Jurors ought to be given a public reward that will encourage norms of civic engagement. Like, say, a bumper sticker (“I love my state so I served on a jury.”), a t-shirt (“I’m not too sexy for jury service”), a newspaper advertisement (“Pennsylvania salutes its jurors . . . “), or a red ribbon. Such small rewards will have the incidental positive effect of making people happier with the experience itself. Jail time, by contrast, will only reduce civic support for the jury system, and will be unlikely to be enforced at levels sufficient to really deter shirking. And, tangible rewards are better than the empty rhetoric that currently marks the legal system’s approach to the reward-punishment problem:
“Conscientious service brings its own reward in the personal satisfaction that an important task has been well done. The effectiveness of our system of justice is measured by the integrity and dedication of the jurors who serve in our courts.”