Sunday, July 29, 2007

What are We going to do about it?

--by Mike Adams

Today’s New York Times article entitled, “Great Lengths taken to fill Jury Box” caused me to reflect on my experiences appearing for jury duty. I’ve been summoned now on four or five occasions, since I have been registered to vote. On most occasions, I never saw the inside of the court room, because the trial was cancelled or something like that…One time however, in California, I spent a day in a Santa Rosa court listening to potential jurors being interviewed and I was the second to last person called for questioning. It was an interesting experience…the case was about a man accused on drunk driving and two officers, who failed to get a blood alcohol or breathalyzer.

My first reaction was that I didn’t necessarily trust the officers…why didn’t they acquire the necessary scientific evidence for conviction…then, the defendant entered the courtroom…late. And after taking one look at him…I thought there would be no problem believing that he had been drunk driving. I concluded that given my prejudice against each party, I should have no problem with being impartial.

Ultimately, when I was questioned, all the jury positions had been filled and they were interviewing me as a potential alternate juror…I admitted that I would feel resentful at listening to a case where I would not be offering a judgment and I was then dismissed.

Most recently…having moved to New Mexico back to the town I grew up in, I was summoned for duty and I ended up serving as a juror in a drunken driving case…it was an interesting and even uplifting experience. Once again, much of the evidence was not present or hadn’t been collected…on this occasion, however, I was a juror, so I heard all the testimony and I was part of jury deliberations. It seemed that every member or the jury took their responsibility very seriously…we questioned each other and asked the judge in to give us direction regarding the specific legal requirements…we re-read the instructions to the jury several times and we rendered a fair and impartial verdict.

The problem is that in my home town, when a person lands in the jury pool…they stay in the pool for six months…so despite having served on a jury…I still find myself being summoned approximately once a month. This experience makes me feel very sympathetic to anyone who will do almost anything to get out of serving. Most of the people living here have jobs, which will pay them when they are on jury duty…I however, don’t have such a job…every time I take a day off, it costs me $240.00, which is almost 25% of my mortgage payment.

That aside…I do appear for jury duty anyway…I consider myself a good citizen and a patriot. I read and research before I vote, I write letters to my elected officials and I try to stay informed about current events, which are important…rather than how things are working out between Brad and Angelina.

This forms the crux of what I have to say on the topic…Here in America, we all want to have a fair and impartial criminal justice system…we want to know that criminals are dealt with appropriately and that there are effective safeguards in place to prevent abuse. The only real problem is that we aren’t willing to do the work in order to have that. According to the NY Times article, only 46% of people summoned even bothers to show up for jury selection. I don’t know what it is like in other counties…but in mine, we are given several weeks’ notice in order to work our schedule out so that we can appear in court. It troubles me that fewer than 50% of people summoned can bestir themselves to even appear for jury selection.

In my previous article, I laid the troubles of our system of governance and our current political crisis square on the shoulders of Mary and John Q citizen…here again, I have to say ‘what is our problem’? Why has America become a country where everyone actually believes that they are entitled to all the benefits of citizen guided governance…but we don’t have to act consistent with the responsibilities of that system?

I mean, come on people…lets go ahead and have our government serve us…lets be responsible for the society we live in. America’s political world of today has arguments about taxation…about welfare…about our government’s role in making the lot of its citizens better. It seems that there have been some important things left out of those discussions…for example, the fact that any entity doing business today depends on our highway system, which was paid for and is maintained by our tax money. The development of today’s internet was funded by tax payers. Libraries, schools, law enforcement and emergency services are funded by tax dollars. Taken all together…isn’t it a little unpatriotic to try and avoid paying taxes…haven’t we benefited from the wise investment of our parents’ and grandparents’ tax dollars? Don’t we owe it to our country and future generations to continue and pay our fair share of taxes and invest it in the future?

Perhaps this all seems unrelated to jury service…but I think it is more related that you might see…we American’s have an unfortunate aversion to making the necessary sacrifices and investments in order to enjoy a government of the people by the people and for the people. That kind of government requires participation from its citizens…from us.

We are the guardians of our government’s values and we are the overseers of her actions…we are responsible for the level of justice, which exists in our criminal justice system and we are in control of our own collective future.

My question is what are we going to do about it?

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