By the time you are an adult, it is common knowledge that our legal system will present your trial to a “jury of your peers”. But what does that actually mean? Does it mean that people just like you, similar age, ethnicity, experience in life, socioeconomic background, will sit on the jury, listen to the evidence and decide? Unfortunately, it doesn’t. It means that you can try to get people similar to you that will understand your situation, but in reality, people without a job, who hate their job and want to miss work, or haven’t figured out a way out of jury duty will decide your case.
In the last months, the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases have been all over the news after the grand jury failed to indict the officers that caused the death of these men. The public and families involved wanted the officers tried before open court. But who would have actually been on the jury?
Typically, when you receive a jury duty notice, you either sigh and try to figure out how you are going to get out of it, or like myself, you jump for joy at the chance to sit on a jury and perform your civic duty. In most cases, you will have to appear for the notice before you are dismissed from service. The problem now a days is that trials take a long time. Long ago, trials would be relatively short. It was also common for the jurors to actually know the defendant on trial and the witnesses. However, that is no longer allowed. There is also an issue of employees not being able to miss weeks or months of work because the trial is so involved. As a result, similar cross sections are left, which does not always give a “jury of your peers”.
The interesting thing is that a jury of your peers does not actually appear in the U.S. Constitution. Instead, we have this right to an impartial jury, which may not necessarily be your peers. As it stands today, it more means having a good cross section of the community that are eligible and able to sit on the jury for the length of the trial.