MARTY RUSSELL: Jury of peers scary considering who they're peers of

By Marty Russell

After I picked myself up off the floor following the reading of the verdict in the Casey Anthony murder trial Tuesday afternoon I plopped back down in my desk chair and briefly debated whether to fix myself a very strong adult beverage or go rob a bank since the fates seemed to indicate I had a pretty good chance of getting away with anything given the jury’s verdict.
But then my eyes wandered to a white envelope lying on the desk addressed to my wife. It was a summons to jury duty by the Northern District Federal Court.
Whether you agree with the jury’s verdict in the Anthony case or believe she got away, literally, with murder, our country’s system of justice, while not perfect, works in most cases and, really, against all odds. I say against all odds because it depends on ordinary people like you and me, and a few extraordinary ones like my wife (disclaimer required because as we all know there is no system of justice in marriage) to work.
While a court trial certainly involves a lot of professionals such as judges, attorneys, court reporters and law enforcement, in the case of a jury trial the final outcome rests in the hands of ordinary folks we rub elbows with every day. That’s a somewhat scary thought when you think that one day your fate could rest with some person who repairs cars or cuts hair or fixes plumbing. But that’s the way it works and it’s actually one of the few facets of government where the voices of ordinary folks are heard and carry weight, unless you include the questionable electoral system.
I’m amazed when I talk to my journalism students about covering courts how little they know about how the justice system in this country actually works (except for those unlucky few still trying the beat that DUI they got coming home from the Square on a Thursday night). Even my wife, upon receiving her summons, tossed it down and said, “I don’t have time for that.”
I told her she’d better make time or the sheriff or federal marshal would be knocking on the door to personally escort her to the courthouse. It’s not an invitation, I explained, it’s a summons, which is why they call it such.
Jurors, I explain to my students, are chosen at random from voter registration rolls so if you never want to be summoned for jury duty, don’t vote. Despite the aforementioned electoral system, that’s not a good option, I explain.
So whether you agree with the jury’s verdict in the Anthony case or not, think of how difficult it is to get a family of four to agree on which restaurant to eat at, let alone get 12 strangers to agree on whether someone should be put to death.
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38677 or by email at marusse1@olemiss.edu.