By ROMAN STAUFFER
CHARLESTON – The jury system forms the foundation of the American justice system. It’s easy to forget how important the jury system 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.
Jury service contributes to our American system of justice and is an important form of service to local communities. Our system of justice ensures real people make the ultimate decisions. This ensures those who decide our disputes can relate to our situations because they’ve probably been there before or faced a similar issue.
When West Virginians serve on juries, they become an important part of the judicial process. Citizens who serve as jurors come away from the experience with a better understanding and higher regard for the justice system. Even if they aren’t selected to serve in the courtroom, potential jurors are critical to helping parties resolve their disputes.
That’s why West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse was proud to recently recognize Juror Appreciation Week, when we honor and thank those who have participated in jury service and contributed to our system of justice.
According to the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia’s 2014 Juror Qualification Report, a total of 41,969 West Virginians completed jury service questionnaires in 2014. That number, which represented 2.26 percent of the state’s population, represented a 22.9 percent decline from 2013.
We must all step up to the plate and serve on a jury when called. 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 often don’t remember that jury service is important for democracy. Jury service is a duty of citizenship, similar to paying taxes and voting. As partners and shareholders in the state and nation, government can only be what we make it.
Thank you to those who have served on a jury. For those of you who have not yet served, I encourage you to participate in the process when you receive a jury summons. If you’re a small businessperson, ensure your employees know what resources are available to them when they serve on a jury. Our system of justice depends on it.
Thank you to the thousands of citizens of West Virginia and the United States for making our country a symbol of justice. When given the opportunity to serve on a jury, I encourage you to answer the call.
Stauffer is executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.