As Americans, we are given the privilege every single day, to better society, to help society, and to help our fellow citizens in many different ways. In doing so, it’s suggested that we therefore have a sense of pride, a sense of accomplishment, and a boost in self confidence and compassion.
One of these Civil duties includes the privilege to sit on a jury in a courtroom. There are certain requirements that have to be met, before being summoned to Jury Duty. Unfortunately, not all of us meet these requirements, but why? The one requirement that recently has sparked a debate in the Justice System is that you must not have any felony convictions or have any pending felony convictions on your record.
The debate has lawmakers, judges, attorneys, and government officials revisiting this law and its effectiveness. In many states, lawmakers are revising or even completely removing this law from the book. So, what’s the big deal around such a law, and why is it just now getting revisited?
What is Jury Duty?
Jury Duty is defined as the obligation to act or a period of acting as a member of a jury in court. It is considered to be a duty that all citizens must participate in. It is said that serving on a Jury gives one a feeling of pride, honor, and self gratification. Their purpose is to uphold the justice and support the Justice System, by reviewing case facts presented to them, and by voicing their opinions on the facts. They rely on self experiences, and common knowledge to determine if the defendant is, in fact, innocent or guilty. Their role is extremely important, not just to the Justice System, but to their fellow civilians as well.
Felons and Jury Duty
In the United States alone, over 19 million citizens have felony convictions on their records. Over 19 million citizens. With these convictions comes many disadvantages, rather it be a day after your time is served, or 2 years, the list of disadvantages last a lifetime. It’s harder for them to get jobs of any kind, they are looked at differently, not just by the Justice System, but also by their fellow citizens, they have certain rights taken away from them such as, owning a firearm and what we call Felon-Jury Exclusion.
Since the beginning of the American law, In 49 states, the Federal Government, and the District of Colombia, if you have been convicted of a felony then you have limitations on your eligibility to serve on a jury. In 28 of those jurisdictions, you are permanently barred from serving on a jury. Maine is the only state that does not have any type of law regarding this topic.
Impact on the Justice System
Having such a law in place limits the eligible citizens to be able to serve on a jury. Approximately 13 million Americans are excluded from this civil duty. That’s 13 million Americans who could have brought their life experiences to the courtroom. That’s 13 million Americans who could have saw that Justice was rightfully served.
Many Government officials believe that the impact of allowing felons to serve on a jury would be negative. They believe that they would be one sided, and that they would always go against the government, rather right or wrong, because of the experiences that they had with the government. Is this really the case? Does the character of a felon suggest that he or she will go against the law and it’s officers, due to personal experiences? Does it suggest that he or she would favor the defending party, due to those same personal experiences?
In recent studies, we have learned that felons and law students alike share the same views on cases presented in the courtroom. We have learned that felons bring positive impacts to cases such as, thinking more rationally and thoughtfully about the case they are presented with, they look at the facts in front of them more in depth, they spoke longer when asked their thoughts on the case facts, and they even raised more questions to other jurors, that the other jurors didn’t even think to ask.
Could it be just the opposite of what certain government officials believe? Could felons bring positive feedback in a courtroom while serving on a jury?
Impact on Felons
Upon being released from prison, and when their sentencing is completely over, felons are expected to adapt to normal life with ease. How is this possible when we don’t allow them the same rights as every other citizen? How are they supposed to feel included and equal to everyone else, when we take such a privilege away from them?
In recent studies, we leaned that allowing felons to serve on a jury did all of the above. It made them feel like they were equal. It made them feel like their opinion matters. They respected their government more, as well as its laws. It made their transition back to civilization so much easier on them, because they felt like they weren’t being judged. They felt like they fulfilled their duty as an American Citizen. They felt like people. Isn’t that what Jury Duty is? A Civil duty and privilege that we, as U.S. Citizens, must fulfill?
We are taught not to stereotype. We are taught not to name call, and that everyone is created equal, but is that really what we are doing when we exclude felons? Are we protecting the Justice System, or are we just making it harder for felons not to commit such crimes again?
Recent Step for Felons’ Rights
Changes are in the works. California, Louisiana, and New York currently bar people with felony convictions to serve on any kind of Jury, but recently revisited this law.
California just passed a bill that restores a felons right to serve on a Jury. Louisiana introduced a bill to restore a felons rights to serve on a jury five years after that person completed parole, or when probation was introduced. Limitations were included in this bill with hopes that it would help it to pass. However, even with the limitations, the bill was denied.
The New York State Senate recently approved a bill that would allow convicted felons, who have served out their entire sentence, to be selected for Jury Duty. With these states taking the first steps towards allowing this change, it’s just a matter of time before others follow.
America changes everyday. Laws change, government officials change, peoples views change, and most importantly, people themselves are capable of change. How is the revising and reconstructing current laws and forming new laws altogether going to affect us as a country? How does America want to be perceived by other countries and by one another?
Changing and adapting has been apart of American history since the very beginning. We were always open to it, and it got us this far. Our government and justice system is as advanced as it has ever been in our history. They adapted. They changed certain things for the better. All we can do is keep trying to go farther. Keep trying to be open to new ideas. Keep adapting to new ideas. Keep making everyone feel equal, and treating everyone the same, regardless of their past. People make mistakes. They learn from their mistakes. They served their time for those mistakes.
So the debate remains. Is the stereotype of a felon correct? Is their character going to naturally make them feel the government is wrong, or will they bring diversity to a courtroom more so than non-felons, and help justice be served even more? Is Felon-Jury Exclusion a non-existent issue, or are we just too forgiving and trusting as a society to those individuals?
With several states asking themselves these same questions, they are proving that they are willing to make sacrifices and changes for the good of their people, and with new laws taking place, only time will tell the true answer to those questions.
What are the qualifications to be selected for Jury Duty?
In order to qualify for Jury Duty, you must:
- Be a U.S. Citizen,
- Be 18 years of age,
- English Speaking,
- Currently have no felony convictions, including pending convictions, or your rights have been restored after a conviction.
Can you be exempt from Jury Duty?
Yes, the following are individuals who are exempt from Jury Duty:
- Members of Armed Forces on active duty,
- Members of professional Fire and Police Departments,
- Public Officers.
Can you get out of jury duty?
Yes. The following is a list of a few examples:
- Take a note from your Doctor or an excusal from school,
- Tell them you can’t be fair,
- Plead hardship,
- Prove that you have recently served on a Jury.
What does the Jury selection consist of?
- You will be summoned to Jury Duty thru the mail. From there when you appear at the courthouse, you will given a questionnaire to see if you’re a right fit.