by Mike McClary
In the spirit of contributing to the ongoing discussion as to what's right, what's wrong, and what could be done to improve our current jury system, I submit the following two cents worth.
I've been told by more than one old timer around here that over the last several years, the tax base has been slowly shifting northward from Globe, but that the seat of government has remained stubbornly planted, as seats of government tend to do, in the south. Seems rather disproportionate and unrepresentative, if you ask me ... but no one has.
Now, just about everyone agrees that we need a full-time, superior-level court of competent jurisdiction in the Town of Payson. That's probably not news, nor is it very controversial. What does raise a few eyebrows, if not a few hackles, is the grass-roots suggestion that the reform most needed for our judicial system is a "jurors' minimum wage" stipulation that would pay jurors the same amount or more than they would have earned had they not served on jury duty. I personally know several people who flat refuse to serve on a jury because they simply can't afford to take the loss.
They would lie, cheat and/or steal to avoid this particular civic responsibility. I know of one particularly clever fellow who, every time he receives his jury summons in the mail, returns it unopened with "No hablo!" scrawled across the front of the envelope. He has never been called on it once, and I believe his ancestors are of Scandinavian descent.
Now understand, these folks are otherwise perfectly honest, intelligent people, who know right from wrong, and who are more than capable of making rational fact-finding decisions. In other words, perfect jurors.
The age-old principle that "you get what you pay for" applies to juries as it does to virtually every other thing in modern life. Our current practice of paying as little as we can get away with results in a monetarily motivated pre-selection process that screens out all -- or at least some-- folks who place their personal financial desires over the community's need for a fair and representative jury system. Besides being morally wrong, this is dangerous, and ought to be challenged, I believe, on a constitutional basis. As a matter of fact, I'm surprised some two-bit drug runner hasn't already thought of it.
The way I read it, the U.S. Constitution guarantees that each of us, if charged with a crime, is entitled to a trial by a jury of our peers. Now, if the very folks who are supposed to sit on that jury are allowed, even encouraged by the system to opt out for selfish reasons, that leaves open the very real possibility that those who actually end up in the jury box are not peers at all, at least not in the broadest meaning of the word. It becomes possible that the jury could be comprised, for example, of all retired white folks with lots of time on their hands, and the accused might be a young minority immigrant who works two jobs.
Now, I'm not saying that justice can never be done in such a situation, just that the defendant, if wrongly convicted, could blame at least part of the injustice on the system that permitted him to be judged by a majority of "peers" who had virtually nothing in common with him ethnically, socially, economically or culturally. And all because his true peers couldn't afford to take the pay cut.
The current system of jury selection is front loaded against equality and ultimately against justice, while being mightily skewed toward saving the all-important buck for things like solid-oak courtrooms and forward-looking political junkets.
If prospective jurors were promised a fair and reasonable wage commensurate with their earning potential, sure it would cost more in dollars, but, I have a feeling it would cost us all a whole lot less in the long run in other less tangible, but no less precious currency. The pay back, I feel, would more than balance the books, because we as a society would get decisions from our juries that were more representative of the values of our communities at large, much more so than we have been seeing of late.
After all is said and done, it's about the price of justice, which is what we all say we want.