The Importance of Jury Duty

By Rebecca Mercier Vargas

It’s an American duty many citizens dread and those feelings are reflected in the availability rate of prospective jurors. In Florida, the Supreme Court sets a goal of 40% or more of summoned citizens participating in jury duty, statewide.

Given the vital role jurors play at the core of our democracy, it is imperative lawyers and the courts remain steadfast in efforts to eliminate frustrations and enhance the experience of citizens serving on a jury.

During the 2017 legislative session, Miami Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez proposed paying jurors minimum wage, or $97 dollars a day to validate the state’s appreciation for their services. This legislation also should broaden the pool of prospective jurors. Currently, jurors are paid $15 for each of their first three days of service, if they are not being paid by an employer, $30 a day after the fourth day of jury service. Chris Hudtwalcker, a legislative aid for Senator Rodriguez, says citizens who don’t have an employer willing to pay for jury duty are not as likely to serve. This is one reason why jury pools are not always representative of the public. Hudtwalcker emphasizes the democratic senator, who is a trial attorney, has seen the problem first hand. Although this legislative proposal did not receive committee consideration in the Legislature, it’s an interesting approach. The senator is likely to introduce this legislation again.

Those who serve as jurors face the enormous responsibility of weighing the law against testimony, evidence, and intricate facts relevant to a case. Add to that the plethora of possibilities a trial may focus on, often involving subjects of expertise. Complicated laws present another challenge for jurors, with little or no previous experience with the law. The sheer volume of information presented in court presents another challenge for the court to ensure jurors are knowledgeable and confident during the trial.

As chair of the Florida Supreme Court Committee on Standard Jury Instructions in Civil Cases, I have an intimate understanding of the importance of jury service. The Committee’s mission is multi-faceted and includes translating legal jargon to plain English and using terms that are understandable to people coming from various socio-economic groups and educational backgrounds. Instructions apply in all types of civil cases. The changing dynamics in the judicial system require the Committee to make frequent updates and revisions to instructions.

The civil jury instructions play an important role in increasing jurors’ understanding of the law and the judicial process. This improves juror satisfaction and willingness of potential jurors to serve.

Resources: Miami Senator Wants Florida to Pay Jurors Minimum WageFlorida Standard Jury Instructions – CivilHow to get more people to serve on D.C. juriesFlorida Courts Juror Information

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West Palm Beach, FL 33401

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