In today’s society, many Americans feel separated from the government process and powerless to make a difference. We have lost the confidence we once had in our system and long for days gone by when right and wrong were clearly defined and everyone was held to the same level of conduct. Americans want to go back to a time when everyone had to follow the same rules and breaking the rules meant facing real consequences for your actions.
There is only one way for any member of society to hold another accountable for their actions: Jury Duty. Next to military service in a time of war, there is no greater responsibility to our country than serving as the voice and conscience of your community through jury service. Without jurors upholding our laws and enforcing the rules of our society, people would be forced to become vigilantes or return to trial by combat. Without a jury system that is rock solid and rooted in the principles of our society, the community would crumble leaving citizens to fend for themselves.
It is for this reason that we have compulsory jury service where we no longer have compulsory military service. Jury service is the greatest calling in our society and often it is the only means for the average person to make a significant impact on the community.
Should you be selected for jury duty, you should be aware that you have rights. (1) If you do not understand something you have right to ask the Judge to clarify it. Our rules are often written and rewritten over long periods of time. Specific cases cause the legislature to reword something, or we must rely on the courts to tell us what the legislature meant to say. All of this can be confusing and frustrating, not only to jurors but to the parties and the attorneys. But as the trier of the facts of a case, the jury, above all others, must understand what they are being asked, what the state of the law is, and what the results of their decision will mean.
(2) If a member of the jury refuses to follow the rules, whether it be by debating the case prior to the jury charge, deciding the case prior to hearing the evidence, or deciding the case without following the law, the remaining jurors have an obligation to report it to the Judge. Not everyone can set aside their personal feelings about a particular issue. Not everyone is honest during jury selection. Not everyone will take the process seriously or try to follow the rules. Jurors who ignore the law and decide cases based on something other than the Judge’s instructions are participating in “nullification”.
Again, without rules our society cannot function. A juror who does take their service seriously, and tries to follow the rules for the protection of every member of the community, deserves to serve on a jury with 11 other people who feel the same way. Only through a unanimous verdict from the jury can any case be decided. Even if we do not always agree with a particular law, we must follow the laws we have. It is not the job of a jury to make the laws. The jury is there to enforce the laws and hold people accountable for their actions.
Often a juror’s disagreement with a particular law is due to information they believe should be a part of the consideration, but the information was not given to the jury. The best examples are the ideas of insurance and attorney’s fees. Jurors know that many people have health insurance to pay for their medical expenses. Some people have short term disability plans or end up on social security disability. Unfortunately, attorneys are not allowed to discuss insurance during a trial. It is often not permissible to tell a jury whether a person has insurance or not. The attorney is not allowed to tell a jury that a particular insurance company which paid for treatment wants their money back at the end of the trial.
It is likewise not permissible to discuss how the attorney’s get paid. Some jurors think the losing party pays the other side’s attorney and all of their costs. Some jurors believe that the Judge will award costs and fees after the jury has ruled. In reality, the attorneys for the defendants are typically paid by an insurance company and the attorney for the plaintiff is paid a portion of whatever the jury awards to the plaintiff. Few of the costs are recovered by the winning party. In short, a plaintiff who is awarded a verdict must pay the litigation costs, insurance reimbursements, and attorney’s fees out of their verdict. But the jury is not given any of this information. They are only told not to consider any issue of insurance or any information not put before them. This is why it is so important for a jury to follow the instructions given by the Judge.
If you ever find yourself selected for jury duty, count yourself fortunate. You have an opportunity to be involved and make a difference. As members of the community, we respect and honor those selected to serve on the jury. To protect ourselves, to protect our children, and to protect our society, we must protect and uphold the laws that society has made.
God bless the United States, the State of Tennessee, and our courts.