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Volume 17, Number 8
Abolish Jury Duty
Dominick T. Armentano
I reside in Indian River County, Florida, where jury duty is mandated by statute, as in most
states. This means that the courts
in the county are authorized to "summon" specific individuals for service in civil and criminal
proceedings as jurors. A
failure to respond to the jury duty summons will be considered a "contempt of court," and a fine
not to exceed $100 can be
Trial by jury is guaranteed in the US Constitution but that doesn't mean that serving on a jury
is some unique civic
responsibility as courts would have you believe. Indeed, forcing individuals to appear for jury
duty selection flies in the face
of other constitutional guarantees, such as the prohibition on involuntary servitude. There are
more efficient and more
ethical ways to obtain adjudication services.
The most obvious alternative to government-mandated service is to use a free labor market.
The government should
advertise and recruit appropriate individuals and pay competitive wages. (When I proposed this
to a local attorney he looked
at me like I was from another planet. Yet, this same attorney thinks nothing of hiring his own
paralegal help or advertising
in the newspaper to sell his own services.)
Ironically, while jurors are currently commandeered, the courtrooms where they serve are
cleaned, painted, and maintained
by hired help. Policemen perform all sorts of "civic duties," but they are not drafted: they are
carefully recruited and paid.
Indeed, all other tasks in a free society are accomplished by individuals who are hired and paid
The system can work for jurors, too.
Hiring jurors has all sorts of "efficiency" advantages. First, laborers are happier and more
productive if they choose their
own line of work and if they are paid fees commensurate with the services that they render.
Second, individuals with
appropriate aptitudes can be recruited to help decide technically difficult cases; this must make
for better "judging." Third,
random selection recruitment (in Indian River County it's based on motor vehicle licenses!) can
be abandoned in favor of
voluntary self-selection, a vastly more efficient recruitment device. (To understand the gross
inefficiency of the current
system, one hundred-twenty individuals in Indian River recently had their lives disrupted for four
days to select seven jurors
for a trial.) Finally, so-called juror shortages are eliminated since the courts tap a more receptive
labor pool and pay
competitive wages for service.
Two common objections to hiring jurors is that it's too "expensive" and the state can "buy"
the verdict that it wants. The
second objection easily fails since jurors are already compensated (although not adequately)
under the current system. And
whether the newer system is "expensive" depends upon how we calculate costs. In the current
system, costs are simply
shifted from government to the unlucky jurors; individuals are taken away from jobs with
substantial market value to serve
as jurors. In a free market this problem is eliminated since attracting potential jurors would
require that they be paid their
But even more important than economics, a free-market juror hiring system is more
consistent with common-sense notions
of liberty and justice for jurors. After all, potential jurors are innocent of all crime; yet, ironically,
they are the ones deprived
of their liberty and ordered to sit in judgment of those charged with real crimes! They are also
subject to rigorous and
personal pre-trial questioning (the voir dire) by attorneys during the selection process;
defendants, on the other hand, can
constitutionally remain silent during the entire court proceeding. Yet there is no excuse for this
unethical treatment of
innocents when an efficient and humane alternative exists.
Jury duty should be abolished and government courts should be required to rediscover the
free market in jury services.
Dominick T. Armentano is professor
emeritus in economics at the University of Hartford and the author of
Antitrust: The Case for
Repeal (Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1999).