The Jury and Democracy: How Jury Deliberation Promotes Civic Engagement and Political Participation

By John Gastil; E. Pierre Deess et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
Answering the Summons

With most written communication now arriving electronically, a jury summons in the mailbox stands out as an important, if quaint document. Prospective jurors in Washington D.C., for instance, have received a summons that reads:

By order of the Chief Judge of the Superior Court of the District of
Columbia, you are hereby summoned to serve as a juror as indicated
below. Please complete the enclosed juror qualification form and return
it within five (5) days. Failure to appear as directed by this summons
may result in a fine of not more than three hundred dollars ($300) or
imprisonment for not more than seven (7) days or both.1

In the 1995 comedy Jury Duty, the underemployed Tommy Collins cringes when his jury summons arrives in the mail. He tosses it into the garbage. Many otherwise upstanding citizens share Collins’ repulsion toward jury duty because they cannot imagine taking time away from work and family to sit in a courtroom and listen to self-important lawyers argue for days on end. Collins, however, becomes desperate to serve when he realizes a sequestered high-profile case will mean free room and board at a hotel and a modest honorarium. He digs the summons out of the trash, strides off to the courthouse, and manipulates his way into a murder trial. Hilarity ensues.

In reality, the experience of jury service is very different from what onlookers imagine. Consider the comments of a juror from Redding, California, who was interviewed after he had participated in his sixth criminal trial.2 Though his service is a matter of public record, we will call him by the pseudonym Jeff.3 Nearing his sixties, this small business owner admitted to hesitancy every time the court has called on him to serve. “The first thing

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