Sunday, August 30, 2009

Jury Duty: keeping the powers of the Western world in check for millennia

Jury duty in Oregon is really where the rubber meets the road in our representative democracy. Jurors have been keeping the powers of the Western world in check for millennia. It's the one place where a citizen's vote can have the most impact on government and on justice - even more so than the "ballot box" (also known in Oregon as "your dining room table.").

If you end up serving on a jury, 90% of the time you will be hearing criminal case. Civil cases rarely get tried due to the great expense for the parties. Most civil trials are personal injury cases. Occasionally, you may be reporting to jury duty on the day that a new grand jury is being selected.

Criminal Jury Trials in Oregon, USA

Jury duty is perhaps the most sacred of all citizen responsibilities. The government with all its power and resources has accused a fellow citizen of a crime and is attempting to strip him of his liberty. In America, a person is innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This keeps the government in check. If the government only proves that it's more likely than not that a person is guilty but does not convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt, the only possible verdict is a verdict of not guilty. Perhaps, proof lesser than proof beyond a reasonable doubt might cut it in Afghanistan or communist China. But here in American and the State of Oregon, our jurors are duty bound to hold the prosecution to the highest of standards, and assume that the defendant is innocent.

Civil Justice

What do Oregonians do when they have a dispute that cannot be resolved? If you listened to talk radio or the propaganda of the insurance industry, they would have you believe that ordinary citizens shouldn't have access to the civil justice system. What's the alternative? Harmful, irresponsible actions would be left unchecked and the injured parties would be left uncompensated.

The jury system is the best of all possible systems. One possible system is that when you are wronged by someone else, you go and take what you think is fair compensation by force. Of course, we live in a civilized society, and the jury system is the fairest way for parties to access justice. Often people ask, "Why should we be giving money for pain or loss of life?" I always remind them that pain or a loss is the worst harm in any civil case. If the jury had a magic wand, we'd ask them to wave it and make the plaintiff whole again. Instead, the only form of compensation that we have is monetary compensation. That's fair and it's the law.

by C. Michael Arnold,
Attorney at Law
Arnold Law Office, LLC
Photo of the Lane County Courthouse (summer 2009 by Mike Arnold)

No comments:

Post a Comment