Thursday, June 21, 2007

Selling Civic Duty

It's been an unusual week; Monday I had jury duty, and I was picked to be on a jury. The trial began Tuesday morning and wrapped up yesterday, and now I'm done and back to normal life and trying to get unburied.

As I sat in the courtroom on Monday during the jury selection process, I found myself wondering: why is a jury duty such an unpopular product? How could you reposition jury duty to make it more appealing to the public? (Hey, there's a lot of time to just sit and think on that first day.

We take it for granted that nobody wants jury duty, but why is that? As I looked around the room, I tried to guess what everyone there does for a living. And it occurred to me that there must be a significant number of people for whom jury duty is more interesting that a regular day at work. Why would they be so resitant to it?

And most people think that our system of trial by jury is an important thing... there must be some sense of civic duty in there to which we could appeal.

I've been called for jury duty before, but this was the first time I was put on a jury and it was interesting to get a closer look at the "product attributes" of the experience:

  • It's interesting. Hey, people watch legal shows on television all the time; why not see the real thing? Even our straightforward little drug possession case raised some fasincating issues about searches and evidence.

  • Free lunch!

  • It rarely takes a long time. Three days, in my case, which is about average.

  • The sense of doing something important. Yes, this sounds hokey, but sitting in the courtroom for a day and half during a criminal case, it's very hard not to realize that you and your fellow jurors hold somebody's fate in your hands. It's serious.

I was appalled the first day by how many people would say anything at all to get out of being selected. I didn't want to be picked either, but the shameless crap that some people - more than a few - were spouting left me thinking, "What happened to civic duty?"

So in the off moments, I started thinking, "How do you market civic duty to the public?" Because it was in frighteningly short supply on Monday.

Three days every couple of years is not a big sacrifice, and the second two days were quite interesting. How would you explain that in a way that made the public look at being picked as something positive?


Mary Schmidt said...


One of the reasons I've been told for someone not registering to vote is:
"I don't want to be picked for jury duty." (And, that's why they now pick from driver licenses, twinkums. So, no go there. Wanta give up your monster truck?)

John Whiteside said...

I have to admit, if someone won't go sit on a jury, I don't mind that he or she won't vote...

When I lived in Massachusetts I understood that they assembled names from not just the voter rolls but motor vehicle records, tax records, and the phone book. So you really couldn't hide from them.

There were 60 prospective jurors on our panel Monday, and the last one picked was number 43. The judge commented, when we started, that they used to bring in 40 people and had no trouble assembling a jury, but that times seemed to have changed.

Maureen Rogers said...

John - THis is a great question, which we'll be facing in Boston where we're predicted to run out of jurors come October. (We have a once-you're-called-you're-off-the-hook-for-three years system here, which I'm guessing, is about to end.)

I was on a trial in January, and they went through over 100 jurors to find 12 + 2 alternates. My case had a hideous aspect (child rape) involved, so it was understandable that some people just felt they couldn't serve. Still... It is a civic duty.

Just like voting, which to me is sacramental in nature. This is a great country. Who wouldn't vote?