An Exercise in Civic Responsibility

I recently served on a jury. It was my second time doing so. I served on a criminal case once many years ago. This one was a civil case.

I have never been one to try to avoid jury service. I have always believed in the importance of civic duty, that our rights come with responsibilities, and that our system doesn’t work unless we participate in it. In the current political climate, however, all of those things take on an extra resonance. I was glad to have the opportunity to do my part.

Many of my fellow jurors, as well as both the plaintiff and the defendant in the case, were immigrants. The array of accents would have seemed appropriate at the U.N. Any previous year, I would have noticed this fact, thought, “How American!”, smiled to myself, and thought no more about it. This year, I wondered if any of them were afraid, if they had friends or family members they were worried might be deported, or were considering canceling vacations for fear they might not be able to return home.

I didn’t mention any of those things, though. In fact, although many of us did let slip unflattering comments about the current president from time to time, the tone of conversation throughout the trial was light. No one would be going to jail as a result of our deliberations. We just had to decide if someone should pay someone else money, and if so, how much.

It was really a fairly interesting process. We had to determine how much of the responsibility for an injury that had occurred lay with the defendant, and how much with the plaintiff. We had to quantify it in specific numbers, assign actual percentages of blame to each side.

Deciding on those numbers was surprisingly easy to do. Our whole group took our task seriously, examined the evidence, followed the instructions from the judge, and ended up with very little disagreement about how much each person was to blame.

It turns out that when reasonable people without a personal agenda look at actual facts, even if they come from wildly different backgrounds and have varied perspectives, they can agree fairly easily on where the truth lies. I found that to be true the first time I was on a jury, too.

The difference was, the first time, I just thought, “Hey, the system may need improvement, but it seems it can work. Isn’t that interesting?” This time, I thought, “Elements of the system definitely need improvement, but it can work. I need to do whatever I can to protect it from being dismantled, and I need to encourage everyone I know to stand up for individual rights, and due process, and fair trials, and civic responsibility, and evidence and facts, so that this isn’t the last year a jury like this one is possible in America.”

I know how we got here. It was little by little, through apathy, and taking things for granted, and not bothering to make the effort to protect the liberties that so many have fought so hard to obtain for us. It won’t be easy to get back what we have let slide, but it can be done, if we each do our part.

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