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Jury Duty

June 2, 1999

I reside in Indian River County, Florida, where jury duty is mandated by statute, as in most states. This means that the courts in the County are authorized to "summon" specific individuals for service in civil and criminal proceedings as jurors. A failure to respond to the jury duty summons will be considered a "contempt of court"; and a fine not to exceed $100 can be imposed.

Trial by jury is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution but that doesn't mean that serving on a jury is some unique civic responsibility as courts would have you believe. Indeed, forcing individuals to appear for jury duty selection flies in the face of other constitutional guarantees, such as the prohibition on involuntary servitude. It can be admitted that some trials may require juries but that doesn't mean that government must draft or "impress" potential candidates. There are more
efficient and more ethical ways to obtain ajudication services.

The most obvious alternative to government mandated service is to use a free labor market. The government should advertise and recruit appropriate individuals and pay competitive wages. (When I proposed this to local attorney he looked at me like I was from another planet. Yet
this same attorney thinks nothing of hiring his own paralegal help or advertising in the newspaper to sell his own services.)

Ironically, while jurors are currently commandered, the court rooms where they serve are cleaned, painted, and maintained by hired help. Policemen perform all sorts of "civic duties"; but they are not drafted: they are carefully recruited and paid. Telephone companies require that individuals climb poles and repair transformers; they train and pay the people that they need. Indeed, all other tasks in a free society are accomplished by individuals who are hired and paid appropriate compensation. The system can work for jurors, too.

Hiring jurors has all sorts of "efficiency" advantages.

First, laborers are happier and more productive if they choose their own line of work and if they are paid fees commensurate with the services that they render. (Those civic minded few who resent payment can simply volunteer their services.)

Second, individuals with appropriate aptitudes can be recruited to help decide technically difficult cases; this must make for better "judging."

Third, random selection recruitment (in Indian River County it's based on motor vehicle licenses!) can be abandoned in favor of voluntary self-selection, a vastly more efficient recruitment devise. (To understand the gross inefficiency of the current system, 120 individuals in Indian River recently had their lives disrupted for 4 days to select 7 jurors for a trial.)

Finally, so-called juror shortages are eliminated since the courts tap a more receptive labor pool and pay competitive wages for service.

Two common objections to hiring jurors is that it's too "expensive" and the state can "buy" the verdict that it wants. The second objection easily fails since jurors are "already" compensated (although not adequately) under the current system. And whether the newer system is "expensive" depends upon how we calculate costs.

In the current system, costs are simply "shifted" from "government" to the unlucky jurors; individuals are taken away from jobs with substantial market value to serve as jurors. This "opportunity cost" to these individuals is staggering and it goes uncalculated and uncompensated under the current regime. In a free market this problem is eliminated since attracting potential jurors would require that they be paid their opportunity cost.

But even more important than economics, a free market juror hiring system is more consistent with common-sense notions of liberty and justice for jurors. After all, potential jurors are innocent of all crime; yet, ironically, they are the ones deprived of their liberty and ordered to sit in judgment of those charged with real crimes!

They are also subject to rigorous and personal pre-trial questioning (the voir dire) by attorneys during the selection process; defendants, on the
other hand, can constitutionally remain silent during the entire court proceeding. Yet there is no excuse for this unethical treatment of innocents when an efficient and humane alternative exists.

Jury duty should be abolished and government courts should be required to rediscover the free market in jury services.

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D.T. Armentano is professor emeritus in economics at the University of Hartford and the author, most recently, of Antitrust: The Case for Repeal (Auburn: Mises Institute, 1999). It can also be purchased through Amazon.com.


For further reading, see The Ethics of Liberty by Murray N. Rothbard, which can also be purchased through Amazon.com.


Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.

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