Editorial: Serving on a jury is a privilege, not a burden

Recently, this newspaper featured a story about a husband and wife who did their civic duty and served on a jury together. Good for them.

Good, because other information in the story related how jury participation is poor locally. Records maintained by Whitfield County Superior Court Administrator Brad Butler indicate that the percentage of individuals summoned for jury duty who showed up ranged in 2018 on a per month basis from 29.3% to 38%, with May of this year seeing a dismal 17.1%.

That is deplorable.

“When you get down to the percentages being so low that you don’t have enough people show up to have jurors for jury trials, then the result of that is we as judges can’t do our jobs,” Judge Jim Wilbanks said.

One recourse? A visit from the man.

“The law certainly allows us to have the sheriff go round up jurors,” Wilbanks said.

But although a strong reason, that is not the chief reason you should show up when you are called for jury duty. Because when you are called for jury duty, you are being asked to provide an important — perhaps the most important — component of our judicial system, the system that seeks to provide needed order to our society.

For our society to work properly, we need a strong judicial system. What is one key to a strong judicial system? Citizens who are willing to show up when summoned for jury duty, who put aside what else may be going on in their life if possible to do their civic duty, to help with the administration of justice so that our freedoms and safety are protected and our lives made better.

"Obviously, the jury system is a vital part of our criminal justice system as a whole," District Attorney Bert Poston said when asked about its importance. "While the vast majority of criminal cases, close to 99%, are resolved by agreement either by a guilty plea or by dismissal of charges, including pre-trial diversion cases, the jury is critical for resolving the remaining 1% or 30-40 cases per year in Whitfield County and another dozen in Murray. I don’t think anyone on either side or the judges think that those cases should be decided by a judge or other full-time professional fact-finder.

"The community as a whole needs a voice in the criminal justice process and that voice comes from grand jurors near the beginning of the process and traverse or trial jurors at the end."

Some people may be concerned that if they miss work for jury duty they can be penalized by their employer, or lose pay. Poston noted, however, that it is "illegal for employers to punish someone for showing up for jury duty."

So we strongly encourage you if you are summoned for jury duty to do your duty on behalf of yourself, your family members, your fellow citizens and the country that you love and cherish.

As Olivia Parrott, the wife in that husband and wife jury couple, said, “Being a juror was a reminder of how lucky we are to live in a country that we do get to participate in and be a part of the judicial process.”

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