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Be grateful for jury duty

An+attorney+points+to+his+client+during+his+opening+argument+to+the+jury+in+Hampden+Superior+Court+in+Springfield%2C+Massachusetts.
Don Treeger/MassLive/TNS
An attorney points to his client during his opening argument to the jury in Hampden Superior Court in Springfield, Massachusetts.

In the modern United States, there are few more classic and clichéd subjects to complain about than jury duty.

On the surface, this makes complete sense. What’s not to hate? Jury duty can take up to a week on average, though often much more. Jurors are only paid a small stipend of $15 per day by the government, and their employers are not required to compensate them. And of course, the work itself can be remarkably boring, precisely because it is mandatory. Due to all these and other factors, many people will do just about anything to dodge jury duty. For some people, this can be justifiable. Poverty-stricken people surviving on minimum wage and single parents taking care of their children alone simply do not have the time or resources to take a week or two out of their lives to serve on a jury. However, for the vast majority of Americans, getting out of jury duty is little more than a game. Friends and coworkers will often exchange stories about how they managed to weasel their way out of the dreaded task, and numerous shows and movies have turned jury summons into comedy routines. Why wouldn’t they? After all, for many people, jury duty itself is a joke.

Only it isn’t.

Though jury duty can feel tedious, and it often is, we must appreciate the true magnitude of what it represents. The jury system exists in order to prevent the government from arbitrarily deciding to punish someone for a crime, real or perceived. It introduces a degree of separation between the people in power and their ability to exercise that power, giving average citizens a real say in the application of justice. This right to a fair trial by a jury of one’s peers, guaranteed constitutionally, is extraordinarily rare in human history. Even today, most countries in the world do not have anything resembling a jury system, and in many countries, the government is free to punish anyone for anything if it serves their interests. The fact that this is not so in the United States is a remarkable deviation from the norm, and it must never be taken for granted.

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There are countless people who have fought and died for the rights we are afforded in this country, and countless more who have never enjoyed them at all. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people flee from the only homes they’ve ever known and come here seeking the very same liberties which native-born Americans are so quick to discard and deride. Complacency has long been a harbinger of authoritarianism in democratic countries, and our complacency about the unique liberties granted to us is likewise an indicator of apathy about our system of due process.

Jury duty may be annoying, but it is also the bedrock of our criminal justice system. Though it can be faulty, it is still one of the best ways to apply the law conceived thus far, and though serving on one isn’t an especially fun experience, it is called a civic duty for a reason.

Most of human history is a horror story. Most of the pages of our annals are stained with the blood and tears of the innocent. What we have in America, from the loftiest institutions to the most mundane and procedural civic obligations, is a rare exception to the rule — an obstinate denial of the regular course of history and a proud declaration that we have the power to control our own destinies. Although some may find it ludicrous and even laughable to speak in such grandiose terms about something so menial as jury duty, it stands as one of the vital keystones of our democracy and one of the strongest guardrails against tyranny.

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About the Contributor
Jacob Repkin
Jacob Repkin, Editor-in-Chief
Jacob Repkin is the Editor-in-Chief at the Mesa Press, and is a second year student at San Diego Mesa College. He is bilingual in English and Russian. He plans to transfer to the California Polytechnic University at San Luis Obispo in the fall of 2024 to obtain his Bachelor's degree in Journalism. He is a San Diego native, and spent much of his childhood living in Clairemont. In his free time, Repkin likes to read, write, hike, and spend time with his friends and family.
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