jury rights

On Jury Duty

by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor

I served on jury duty during the past week, and was greatly impressed by the colossal waste of time the procedure imposes. The panel before mine had already started the jury selection process, and my panel had to come in for three days until 12 jurors and three alternates were finally chosen.

Just counting my panel, to select the 15 persons, 150 had to appear for three days. This 450 person days and, using 7 hours per day, 3150 hours. At $10 per hour, that represents a social cost of $31,500 in lost wages. Even if the employer continues to pay the salary of a juror, since he is not doing any work, it is a social cost and a drain on the profits, as the salary comes out of total profits and not the product generated by the labor; it is not really wages but a share of the profits from other labor.

If the trial lasts 15 days (3 weeks), then the social cost in lost wages at $10 per hour is 15x15x7x10 = $15,750, half the cost of the jury selection. So most of the social cost, in lost wages and production, of a typical jury trial is in the selection of the jurors. Each prospective juror is questioned individually while the others just sit there and listen.

The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution states that "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude .... shall exist within the United States." It seems to me that, whatever the courts have said about it, serving time on a jury against one's will is involuntary servitude and therefore unconstitutional.

But given that jurors are forced to serve, it seems to me that the social cost of lost time greatly exceeds what is necessary. One way to find out is to pay jurors for their loss of time and wages. If they were paid even the legal minimum wage, the selection process would change.

We have been paid all of $5 a day for the jury duty, a symbolic token. If instead we were paid $5 per hour, three days of jury selection would be a cost of $15,750, paid from the budget of the court. Multiplied over many juries, this would be a large cost that the courts would seek to reduce. For example, rather than requiring all 150 prospective jurors to appear, only some 20 could be asked to attend, the others being on call. Those called to serve as jurors could fill out a questionnaire ahead of time, and those unable to serve would be dismissed without having to come in.

Some may say that even with such reduction in costs, paying the jurors the minimum wage would be too great a cost to the taxpayers. Since it is a civic duty, why not keep the payment a token? The answer is that the cost is already there; it is just a question of who pays it. Either society as a whole can pay it from public revenues, or just those unlucky persons who have to serve on a panel can pay the cost in lost time. It is more just to spread the cost among the whole population than to concentrate it on those who were randomly chosen for jury duty.

The involuntary servitude of jury duty is really a tax imposed as an opportunity cost, the foregone time and wages of the jurors. Justice as well as efficiency requires that this tax be minimized within the constraint of providing justice. Paying jurors a more realistic compensation is the key to stopping the waste of juror time and avoiding this substantial loss to economic well being.

Complete justice mandates that the source of the revenue used to pay jurors itself be just. A tax on wages is also a tax on the time of a worker. Justice requires that people's time not be taxed at all. Instead, public revenue can be derived from a resource that works all the time without any loss of opportunity: land. The land rent is always and already there; using it for public revenue need involve no waste or loss of human time at all.

It is ironic that the heart of our system of justice, the jury, is itself rife with multiple injustices. As I wrote in my editorial of January 1998 on fully informed juries, juries should be able to judge both fact and law in order for there to be a "trial by the country" rather than a trial by the government. Service should be voluntary, and the jurors should be paid a decent wage.

As Lysander Spooner wrote in Trial by Jury, "There has, probably, never been a legal jury, nor a legal trial by jury, in a single court of the United States, since the adoption of the constitution." If a fully legal and moral jury system were adopted, not only would jurors not get penalized, but justice would be swifter and there would be much fewer laws, certainly much fewer unjust laws.

-- Fred Foldvary      

What is your opinion? Share it with The Progress Report:

Your name

Your email address

Check this box if you'd like to receive occasional Economic Justice Updates via email. No more than one every three weeks on average.

Page One Page Two Archive
Discussion Room Letters What's Geoism?

HENRY Search Engine

Copyright 1999 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.