I got called up for jury duty last week. Like most people, I was reluctant to serve and was hoping to get dismissed early. But as I learned more about it, I began to understand its importance.
The judicial process isn’t perfect. But we’re not perfect human beings either. We all have biases, even if they’re unconscious, and most of us would have misgivings about controlling the fate of another human being. The system tries to compensate for this in a number of ways during jury selection: they try to find people who are not familiar with the case, they ask potential jurors questions that would indicate strong biases, and they give precise instructions about what is and is not evidence. (I also learned that we’re not only prohibited from talking about the case, even with the other jurors until deliberation starts. We’re also not allowed to research the facts of the case, which includes visiting the scene of the incident. So for a few days, I wasn’t allowed to go to a certain bowling alley in Alameda.)
But all of this only works if people are willing to take on the duty of serving as jurors. Several people got out of it by essentially saying they didn’t think it was right for people make these kinds of decisions on other people. And I can sympathize with that. But it is a duty and somebody has to do it. Socrates thought that the best rulers would be reluctant to serve and I think that applies to jurors as well. The judge also made a point of saying that we were only there to determine the facts of the case and it was his job alone to judge the person and determine sentencing, if any.
In the end, the case was dropped a few days after I was called. And part of me was relieved not to be responsible for deciding like that. But it was a fascinating look into the whole process. Also, I got paid $17.72 each day I served, which is more than I make on my iPhone apps…