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OP-ED: Learning more about serving on jury duty

Dawn Burleigh,
General Manager/Editor

The Texas Bar Foundation awarded $20,000 to the State Bar of Texas Law-Related Education Department to fund their newest project: Jury Service: Your Call of Duty.

The project is designed educate students and the public about the role of jury service in our democracy. It will debut in spring 2022, according to a press release.

Hearing this news was exciting because there are so many who do not know what to expect when they are called to jury duty. In fact, the number one comment when someone comments they received a summons is how to get out of serving. Wrong attitude!

Serving on a jury is a civic duty, in my opinion, just as voting on election day.

Serving the call to serve is important because it allows for a wider range of persons on the panel as well as insuring the person on trial has the option to be judged by their peers. Honestly, do you want a female judged by a panel of 12 men, especially if the crime she is charged with has to do with inflicting harm upon the man? No, you would not.

A citizen’s right to a trial by jury can be traced back to both the United States Constitution and the Texas Declaration of Independence. Although the right to a jury trial is considered a fundamental safeguard of each American’s constitutional liberties, the concept of a jury trial is hardly new, dating back to medieval England, according to the Orange County, Texas website.

Your jury summons puts you in the center of this most basic right of all Americans.  The United States and the State of Texas Constitution guarantees a right to trial by jury for anyone accused of a crime, regardless of his or her race, religion, gender, national origin or economic status.  Any time the facts of a civil or criminal case are in dispute, the parties have a right to have their case heard by a jury of fair and impartial citizens who will make decisions without bias or prejudice.

But in order for this to happen, people have to be willing to serve and stop finding excuses to be excused.

Did you know that Orange County offers travel assistance for jury duty? If you do not have a vehicle or do not drive, or you are unable to drive because of a physical disability, you can contact the Orange Transportation Office at (409)745-9511.  You must call 24 hours in advance and call before 3 p.m.

While there are legitimate reasons to be excused, look for reasons to serve. Would you want to be judged by your peers or by someone else’s peers? Age, gender and even ethnicity can change how a person views something and will help bring a different perspective to the table as one decides if the person is innocent or guilty.

Most cases are settled in a day, maybe two. So one could show up for jury duty and be selected by lunch, take a lunch break, hear the trial and decide a verdict all by 5 p.m. Not much to ask of an individual to help ensure justice is true and fair.

I look forward to seeing the completed project Jury Service: Your Call of Duty by the State Bar of Texas Law-Related Education Department and Law Focused Education, Inc. Congratulations on your award. May it help end the mystery and misconceptions of jury duty.

Dawn Burleigh is general manager and editor of The Orange Leader. She can be reached at dawn.burleigh@orangeleader.com