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 6
From Courthouse to Community

After serving five days on an assault/theft case at the Kent Regional Justice Center, one young male juror from Seattle found himself moved by the experience. When asked to reflect on his period of service, he wrote an answer that spilled out of the response-box and onto the margins of his survey questionaire:

I truly felt that Jury Duty was the best civics lesson I’ve ever had. In
no other way that I can think of are citizens so equally involved in
the state’s affairs. In daily life, our conversations and opinions rarely
have serious consequences. For example, our sphere of concern may
include communist China, but as joe citizen, we have zero influence.
In the trial, our sphere of concern overlaps our sphere of influence and
our involvement produces very real consequences. Thus, as Jurors and
as citizens, we become more aware of the weight and responsibility of
our decisions. Ultimately, this is a lesson in civics that a high school
social studies class could never replicate.1

Of the thousands of jurors we interviewed, none made these connections quite so explicitly as this juror did. Had we coached our survey respondents to feed us responses like this, even then it would not have occurred to us to ask for “Jurors” and “Jury Duty” to receive capitalization (in the Old English tradition of emphasis through the use of capital letters). Juries and Jurors are even set off against the (intentionally?) lowercased “joe citizen,” whose civic and political acts lack the “serious” or “real” consequences of jury deliberation. This juror, or should we say Juror, even becomes “more aware of the weight and responsibility” of his and other jurors’ decisions simultaneously as “jurors and as citizens.”

-106-

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