A Washington County Ohio judge wants to punish 55 people for the “crime” of failure to report for compulsory jury service as ordered by the court. He plans to slap them all with court fees and/or possibly arrest and incarceration for violating his order.
This scenario happens every day in jurisdictions all over America. A Court clerk randomly selects a list of people from the community for potential jury service. The judge signs an order to summon those on the list to appear before the court at a designated time and place and subject themselves to compulsory service on a jury panel.
The judge claims the power to compel or excuse jury service at his whim. If compelled to serve on a case, the juror may be forced to cooperate for days, weeks, or even months at a time as the case may require. That juror is obliged to leave his or her normal life behind and show up every day for service. In some instances the judge may even sequester them in a hotel and order them not to carry on their usual activities and contacts until their service is concluded.
There’s a big problem with this in my opinion: It’s unconstitutional.
The Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution specifically provides that: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
What could possibly be more plain and unambiguous as that? If a person has not been duly convicted of a crime for which punishment is prescribed by law, no judge has the power to impose involuntary servitude upon that person in the form of compulsory jury service – period.
Leaving that aside however; as a lawyer, the last thing I want for my client in a jury trial is a juror sitting in judgment on the case who doesn’t want to be there. The first question I always ask a jury panel is whether anyone present would rather not serve. If anyone raises their hand I always ask the judge to excuse that person for cause. That’s because a juror serving involuntarily is likely to be an unfair juror – a juror who doesn’t care.
That’s why jury service must me voluntary. Compulsory jury service is involuntary servitude – unconstitutional courtroom conscription.