July is Juror Appreciation Month High court looks to educate public about value of jury service

By Jo Mathis

Legal News

Recognizing that the right to trial by jury is one of the fundamental components of the justice system, the Michigan Supreme Court has once again proclaimed July Juror Appreciation Month.

"Constitutionally, defendants are entitled -- as are the people -- to a trial by jury," said Judge Timothy M. Kenny, presiding judge, Criminal Division, Wayne County Third Circuit Court. "Last year, we did over 450 jury trials here in this building. People can't get their day in court unless citizens are willing to give up, on average, two or three days of their life to come down here and participate in what is -- next to voting -- the most important community service they can perform."

The Michigan Supreme Court designated July as Juror Appreciation Month to educate potential jurors about the value of jury service; inform the public about a jury's role in democracy; encourage better response to jury duty summonses; and teach the public about requirements for jury service.

According to the Court, participation in jury trials provides citizens an opportunity to incorporate community values into dispute resolution; guard against abuse of power by legislatures, businesses, and government agencies; avoid arbitrary or unfair actions by individual judges; and protect the rights of all citizens.

In a typical week, 850 potential jurors are called in to appear for duty at the jury assembly room at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in downtown Detroit. About 25 percent of those summoned fail to appear, and that can result in a fine and jail time, especially for those who've refused repeatedly.

The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution guarantees jury trials in felony criminal cases, and the Seventh Amendment provides for jury trials in certain civil cases.

Kenny said juries get it right nearly every time.

"There are occasions where I disagree with the jury's verdict, but the jury's verdict stands," he said.

At the end of every trial, Kenny thanks the jurors for their service, and gets some idea about how they analyzed the evidence in the case.

"I hope things like Juror Appreciation Month will provide a mechanism for people to understand the importance of jury service and how much we really need them to participate in this process," said Kenny.

Last month, the Michigan Supreme Court announced a series of new jury rules that will allow jurors to become more involved in the process of getting to the truth of the case. Jurors will be able to take notes, pose questions for witnesses and discuss evidence with other jurors during trials instead of waiting for deliberations.

Chief Justice Robert P. Young, Jr. Young said the court is grateful to Michigan jurors for their service.

"People make sacrifices to serve on juries -- time away from family, time away from work," he said in a statement. "Those of us in the court system owe it to them to make their service as meaningful as possible, and that includes freeing them to be more actively engaged in the trial process."

Published: Mon, Jul 11, 2011

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