For many, it’s a dreadful notice: We’ve been called to jury duty.
It disrupts schedules. It doesn’t pay well. It can drag on for indefinite periods of time, leaving life up in the air.
But it is a vital part of our democracy, a critical piece of the American legal system, to be judged in a court of law by ones “peers.” A defendant, in fact, has a constitutional right to a trial by jury, and those asked to serve as jurors are offered an opportunity to participate in the governing process.
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It is with this backdrop that we comment on the revelation Wednesday that three female jurors who were part of a Northumberland County trial regarding drug charges against a Coal Township man reportedly had alcoholic beverages during their lunch break.
You’d think that after hearing the judge’s instructions and sitting through the morning testimony the importance of their role would have been apparent. Were they flippant about their responsibility or simply clueless as to its significance? We don’t suppose the judge told them, “don’t drink during your lunch break,” but should he have to?
As was the right reaction to the judge being notified, both sides in the case agreed to a mistrial — and, lo, we had another defendant cop a plea deal in the interest of clearing the clogged criminal slate in Northumberland County. In this case, it came after a lot of time, money and effort were spent on preparing for and starting the trial. It could have been worse, though, had word of the alcohol consumption come after the trial.
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The jurors were likely just looking to calm their nerves. And while it was a poor decision, it was not a crime.
Still, it is disappointing, and serves as the latest example of a United States where people are less in tune with their responsibilities as citizens. Voting, serving in their communities (as volunteers or in public office), paying taxes, serving on jury duty — these are all necessary for a successful democracy.
We hope this is a rare case whereby the legal system could have been jeopardized, even if unintentionally. But, just in case, perhaps instructions for jurors going forward should include the warning, “No drinking at lunch.”