“I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution."
–Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of Independence and third U.S. President
I’ll be honest. I started my jury service with a very bad attitude. Randomly selected, I was instructed to be physically present in the jury room at one of LA’s least attractive courthouses by 8 o’clock on Monday morning.
Plucked from my daily routine, I fought morning “rush hour” traffic on 2 different freeways on that first day, and then was forced to find street parking due to woefully inadequate courthouse parking. With only minutes to spare, I found a parking spot on a side street under a freeway pass, and I risked life and limb to cross in front of the busy on-ramp traffic. After hurrying into the square, graceless building, I found myself standing in a long line for a weapons search.
Jury duty. What had I done to deserve this? I wasn’t the one that had made the “bad choice,” landing in need of a lawyer and a trial. I didn’t make my living as a lawyer, nor did I glean any prestige acting as a judge. But here I was, an ordinary citizen, chosen at random, sacrificing time and money, surrounded by strangers, waiting for the wheels of justice to turn.
It did get easier. After the first day I no longer lost my way to the courthouse, helplessly gazing at 4 lanes of traffic and the bright glare of the sun on the concrete. Wearing my jury badge, I became friendly with the policemen performing the weapons search at the front of the building. And, as I sat in the grey purgatory of the jury holding room – a room animated only by the low drone of competing morning TV talk shows, simultaneously broadcast from 4 different TV monitors – I reached into my memory and took a mental step back into history.
Trial by jury came to America from England. Designed to protect citizens from the abuse and power of government, the principle of a Common Law Jury or Jury of your Peers was first established on June 15, 1215 at Runnymede, England when King John signed the Magna Carta.
America’s founders wisely took the best of King George’s England, threw out the worst, and adapted to a new land. “Trial by jury” is discussed in all three of America’s founding documents: The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and The Bill of Rights. In our system of checks and balances, the jury is our final check, and the people’s last safeguard against unjust law and tyranny.
By the end of my jury duty, my attitude had completely changed. As we say in LA, “it’s not always ALL about me,” and performing jury duty is a very small price to pay for living in America. I deeply value my right to a “trial by jury” were I to ever need one. It’s not a perfect system, but it is the best one yet invented.