A mistrial was declared in the trial of former Unicoi County sheriff Kent Harris after jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict. As a result, Harris is scheduled to be retried by a new jury of his peers on Dec. 10.
This case once again reminds us of the tremendous responsibility that comes with being a juror. It’s also disturbing to consider that serving on a jury is a civic duty that far too many Americans go out of their way to avoid.
Aside from tax notices and credit card bills, there is perhaps nothing Americans dread more than receiving a jury summons in the mail. Some immediately set out to find an excuse to get out of jury duty.
For many years, people believed they could avoid a jury summons by simply refusing to register to vote. How sad it is to think that some Americans would gladly give up one important civic responsibility to avoid being called for another.
Courthouse officials in Tennessee rely on a variety of public records from which to call prospective jurors. In many counties, Circuit Court clerks comb through driver’s license information and tax rolls to find names for jury service.
Those who fail to answer a jury summons face a $50 fine and a stern rebuke from judges who have become impatient with Tennesseans who attempt to avoid their civic duty.
State legislators approved a measure a few years ago eliminating many of the exemptions to jury duty that were based on age or occupation. As a result, elected state or federal office holders are no longer automatically exempt from serving on a jury. The same goes for teachers, firefighters, law enforcement officers, practicing attorneys and physicians.
The revised law also makes no exception for a person’s age. The law only allows exemptions for people who can prove an extreme physical or financial hardship.
Those called to jury duty can expect few frills. Even so, serving as a juror is one of the most crucial tasks a citizen is asked to do in our country. It is a vital civic responsibility essential for maintaining our system of justice.