Evolution of the Jury

Evolution of the Jury

A Brief History of the Jury System

Greetings! I hope everyone is enjoying their summer. My family and I just returned from an overseas vacation, and although we enjoyed the culture and beauty of these foreign lands, I have to agree with Dorthy. There is no place like home. There is something about the comfort of being surrounded by your own things and the safety of the familiar. Of course, coming home after an extended time away always brings a few surprises. In my case, one of these was a jury summons.

Jury duty is part of the price we need to pay to live in this society, but it still seems a little unfair to me. I haven’t done anything wrong, yet I must shlep down to the city center, fight for a parking space, sit on a wooden bench, turn off any source of entertainment, and listen to a very dry debate for hours. This repeats every day until I’m set free. In return, if I am accused of committing a crime, I get the choice to torture my fellow citizens similarly. As I plan to remain a law-abiding citizen, the likelihood of me sitting as the accused is slim; thus, I find very this trade inequitable. But like everything else, there must be a reason it’s done this way.

Apparently, the origins of the jury system stem from a practice that was in place more than a thousand years ago, during the time of the Anglo-Saxon courts. At that time, the accused was permitted to bring forth witnesses (up to 12) to vouch for their character. This eventually morphed into inviting villagers to weigh-in on cases involving land disputes. Eventually, this authority expanded to criminal offenses, and the jury formed. The first juries were different from what you find today. Those early jurors were expected to come into the case, having performed their own research on the case. Now, of course, it’s preferred if the jury uses only the information presented during the trial to decide.

I suppose I should be grateful that we, as citizens, may participate. Still, I don’t feel enthusiastic. Maybe I am just reluctant to start my day so early. But things could be worse. My husband tells me that some towns struggle to fill their jury pools so court officials will go into the malls and pluck up shoppers, forcing them into same day service. I have done nothing to confirm this report, but while reading about the history of the jury system, I found an even better historical example that serves as a powerful reminder that I have nothing to complain about.

This case dates back to 1670 and is very important for modern law. Two famous quakers, who had preached on the streets, were charged with unlawful assembly. At the time, non-Church of England religious assemblies with greater than five individuals were prohibited. The jury agreed the defendants had spoken in the streets but were deadlocked on whether this met the definition of an unlawful assembly. The judge, who felt the quakers were guilty, was livid. He threatened to have the foreman’s nose cut off, then ordered that those jury members who favored acquittal be locked up without food, water, tobacco, or heat. After fasting for two days, the jurors returned with a verdict. You’d assume the punishment would break them, but it actually did the opposite. They announced a verdict of not guilty. This further infuriated the judge, who heavily fined the jurors and had them locked up until their fines were paid.

One of these jurors, Edward Bushell, contested these fines and eventually, the courts agreed with him. The courts ruled jurors could be punished if they misbehave, but they could not be punished simply because of the verdict they decided. Thank you, Mr. Bushell, for guaranteeing my nose will remain in place.

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July 15, 2022 4:46 PM

Hopefully I don’t jinx myself by saying this but I’ve never had to do jury duty and it’s something I definitely would be anxious about doing.

Caryl Kane
Caryl Kane
July 13, 2022 7:07 PM

Fascinating post!

Gianna Thomas
July 13, 2022 8:39 AM

Glad you had a good and safe trip Cinnamon. History shows us that trial by juries has been used and abused for a long time. Unfortunately, since we are imperfect humans, although we may mean well, it doesn’t mean that justice is always done. And having the judge against the accused had to be a scary situation for some. Thank you for an interesting post.

Riana Everly
July 13, 2022 8:15 AM

We also have travel plans for places abroad, and we, too, must be back in time for my husband’s jury duty. The story of the power-hungry judge is both amusing and sobering. Good for those jurors for sticking to their principles, despite the pressure.
I joke that if I’m ever called for jury duty again, I’ll smile and say, “excellent! I’m a mystery writer. This is great!” And see what happens.

Gianna Thomas
July 13, 2022 8:44 AM
Reply to  Riana Everly

Hahahahahaha! Riana, you will probably find you are excused. I was excused from one duty because I felt the type of traffic light affected an accident that had happened. They didn’t like my stand.

Kirstin Odegaard
July 12, 2022 5:36 PM

Glad to hear those brave jurors stood up against that power hungry judge!

That jury summons is so stressful…especially when you have little ones at home you’re watching every day or nursing. I want honest citizens to do it. But I’d like it to be honest citizens who aren’t me.

J. W. Garrett.
J. W. Garrett.
July 12, 2022 11:19 AM

This was hilarious… and a bit scary. I like my nose just fine, thank you very much. In fact, I have jury duty right now. For the last several years I was full-time caregiving and my husband and I both received a notice within months of each other. We were able to get a pass due to his illness but now that he is deceased, I expected to receive a summons. However, I didn’t expect to get one so quickly. They didn’t even wait for my mourning period to be over. So, here I am waiting for District Court to convene.

In the late 70s, I crossed the border into Mexico and was carrying a huge purse on my shoulder. Back in the day, you carried these vacation monstrosities. I turned to look at something my friend was pointing out and bumped the guy behind me with the edge of my purse. I turned to apologize and was horrified to see a very angry Policeman glaring at me. OMG! I had visions of the headlines, American Woman Assaults Police Officer. Either that or I’d simply disappear. The look of horror on my face and my attempt to apologize in broken Spanish made him laugh. I never carried that purse again. Thanks for sharing today. Blessings.

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
July 12, 2022 8:11 AM

Wow! Jury duty was tough! I don’t like to do it but I have done it. Never been on a jury thank heavens!

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