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Why Jury Duty Matters

A Citizen's Guide to Constitutional Action

Andrew Guthrie Ferguson

Publication Year: 2012

It’s easy to forget how important the jury really is to America. The right to be a juror is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed to all eligible citizens. The right to trial by jury helped spark the American Revolution, was quickly adopted at the Constitutional Convention, and is the only right that appears in both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. But for most of us, a jury summons is an unwelcome inconvenience. Who has time for jury duty? We have things to do.
In Why Jury Duty Matters, Andrew Guthrie Ferguson reminds us that whether we like it or not, we are all constitutional actors. Jury duty provides an opportunity to reflect on that constitutional responsibility. Combining American history, constitutional law, and personal experience, the book engages citizens in the deeper meaning of jury service. Interweaving constitutional principles into the actual jury experience, this book is a handbook for those Americans who want to enrich the jury experience. It seeks to reconnect ordinary citizens to the constitutional character of a nation by focusing on the important, and largely ignored, democratic lessons of the jury.
Jury duty is a shared American tradition. It connects people across class and race, creates habits of focus and purpose, and teaches values of participation, equality, and deliberation. We know that juries are important for courts, but we don’t know that jury service is important for democracy. This book inspires us to re-examine the jury experience and act on the constitutional principles that guide our country before, during, and after jury service.

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I owe a great debt to my family, Alissa, Cole, Mom and Dad, Anndrea, Michael, Ann, and Tom for reading and commenting on drafts of this book and giving me love, confidence, and the education to make my ideas a reality. ...

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Foreword: The American Jury System: Democracy at Work

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pp. xi-xviii

A jury verdict changed my life. It was 1972. I was in college at Stanford University and the trial was about a half hour away in San Jose. I was a part of a large group of African American students at Stanford University who had been organizing against the criminal prosecution of Angela Davis. ...

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pp. 1-8

In a poorly lit hallway, on an uncomfortable bench, a young man sits wringing his hands. Around him hums the bustle of an urban courthouse. Uniformed police officers, slick-suited lawyers, and casually dressed witnesses go in and out of the courtroom doors. ...

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1. An Invitation to Participation

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pp. 9-26

You hold in your hand an invitation. Sure, it looks like an official jury summons, and it was probably not the invitation you were hoping to receive. Yet it is still an invitation—an invitation to participate in the American experiment of self-government. ...

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2. Selecting Fairness

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pp. 27-46

As you wait to see if you will be selected as a juror, look around the courtroom. Study the parties at the table. What does it say that every time two litigants appear for trial, we know one side will lose? Both sides walk into court knowing at the outset that one side will lose, yet they still show up. ...

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3. Choosing Equality

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pp. 47-64

Throughout your jury service, you are known by a number— a juror number. You respond to that number. There are no nicknames or familiarities on jury duty. In the same way there are no titles. Whether you are a soccer mom or a Senator (or both), you are simply a number to the jury system. ...

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4. Connecting to the Common Good

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pp. 65-80

Jury selection ends with a hushed series of whispers. Then the trial judge intones those fateful words: “For those of you sitting in the jury box, you will be the jurors in this case. For the rest of you, thank you for your service, you may return to the jury office and tell them you have been excused.” ...

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5. Living Liberty

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pp. 81-100

For most people, “liberty” is not synonymous with jury duty. Jurors feel like their own liberty—the freedom to live their lives—has been taken by judicial force. You are summoned to court. Day after day, you are told when to arrive, when to leave, and even when you can go to the bathroom. You sit in a particular numbered seat. ...

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6. Deciding Through Deliberation

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pp. 101-116

So, it is time to decide. The trial is over. The evidence is completed. You and your fellow jurors sit around a table. You have been asked to make the final decision in a case. You are about to begin the process of jury deliberations. You are about to practice the principle of deliberation. ...

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7. Protecting a Dissenting Voice

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pp. 117-138

In the Academy Award–nominated movie 12 Angry Men, a single juror convinces the other eleven to question their assumptions of guilt in what appears to be a simple case.1 The lone juror dissents to prolong a quick vote for guilt, and eventually creates enough questions to turn around the verdict. ...

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8. Judging Accountability

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pp. 139-160

You sit in judgment. Literally and figuratively you sit— twelve jurors judging a human being or human problem. While your seats may not be as elevated as the judge’s, your position is just as important. As you sit in that jury box, across from the defendant or plaintiff, you act as judge. ...

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pp. 161-164

I look across at my young client still wringing his hands. He has barely moved from our uncomfortable bench for three days. The courthouse feels empty. A law clerk shuffling papers in the hallway interrupts the stifling silence. I touch my copy of the Constitution for good luck. ...


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pp. 165-196

Text of the United States Constitution

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pp. 197-228


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pp. 229-233

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About the Author

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pp. 234

Andrew Guthrie Ferguson is Assistant Professor of Law at the David A. Clarke School of Law at the University of the District of Columbia, where he teaches criminal law, criminal procedure, and evidence. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814729045
E-ISBN-10: 0814729029
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814729021
Print-ISBN-10: 0814729029

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2012

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Subject Headings

  • Jury duty -- United States.
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