Penalize jury duty no-shows

An editorial from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register 

WHEELING, W.Va. — Other than that we pay our taxes and obey other laws, our form of government does not ask much of us. Even voting, the republic’s very foundation, is optional – and should be, by the way.

But we are asked from time to time to sit in judgment of our peers. That is the basic guarantee of justice in America. Many people seem to understand that with that freedom goes the responsibility to make it work by showing up for jury duty when we are asked.

A few do not. This week we reported that the attempted murder trial of a Wheeling man had to be postponed because six people failed to go to Ohio County Circuit Court Tuesday, after being summoned to serve as jurors. It was far from the first time the problem has occurred. In March, a mistrial had to be declared in a sex crimes case because not enough jurors reported for duty.

In the attempted murder case, Judge David Sims said he will summon the six no-show jurors into his court to explain why they were not there on the day the trial was scheduled. If he is not satisfied with their answers, Sims has the power to punish them severely. They can be fined as much as $1,000 each and can be ordered to pay the $40-per-day cost of each of the 28 potential jurors who did do their duty.

Judges are understanding when people summoned for jury duty contact the court in advance and provide reasonable explanations for why they cannot serve or that doing so would result in a severe hardship on the person, his or her family, even an employer.

But there are limits to judges’ patience – as there should be. Men and women who scoff at jury duty notices, who decide not to be inconvenienced by serving, should make everyone who takes the responsibility seriously very angry.

Enough cases of no-show jurors have been logged during the past few years for judges to decide it is time to put deterrence to work by penalizing a few of the scofflaws severely. The critically important cause of justice may demand it.

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