To Serve or Not to Serve: Jury Duty is the Question

Several times a year, the Texas Home School Coalition gets calls from home schooling moms who have received summons for jury duty and want to know how to avoid having to serve.

I have received such summons a few times in my home schooling career.  Until my youngest children turned ten, I took the exemption available to parents who, by serving on a jury, would leave their young children at home without proper supervision.  Although I believed that it was my duty as a citizen to participate in this way, at that point it would have been an extreme hardship for me to leave my home and school for an extended period of time.

However, when the call came after my youngest turned ten, I dutifully left my children with school assignments and appeared at the courthouse.  The judge in the jury pool room explained that he would excuse very few people from serving.  He explained that even if you had a one-man business and had to close down for the duration of your service, even if you were a teacher and had to find a substitute, even if it was an inconvenience, you were there to stay.  He also said that he did not know what was wrong with those courts in California (this being right after the OJ Simpson trial), but Texas court cases usually took no more than two days – very rarely three.

Having spent so many hours a day with small children for so many years, I was careful to pay very close attention.  When asked, during the voir dire (you will find out what this means when you serve on a jury) why I would vote to send a convicted felon to prison, I chose two of the reasons proffered based on my biblical worldview.  I absolutely did not agree that someone should go to prison for rehabilitation.  While getting the criminal off the streets was a good idea, it was not a scriptural reason for imprisonment.  However, I reasoned that to mete out justice to punish and to deter were reasons based on biblical principles.

As the Lord would have it, I was chosen to serve on a jury that day.  In the afternoon of the second day, it took us thirty minutes to convict the defendant of selling drugs to an undercover policeman.  Then came the hard part.  We had to decide what his punishment would be.  We listened to more testimony and found out that this man was a three-time convicted felon.  Had this been his first conviction, we could have awarded him a minimum of five years in prison.  This being his third conviction, the punishment range was 25-99 years or life imprisonment. 

We had an interesting jury.  There were two members who would have voted for hanging and one who wanted to give him the minimum sentence so that he “wouldn’t think that society had given up on him.”  I could see that we were going to be there a long time unless we could bring the two extremes together.  By that time, it was getting late on the second day, and I had a ten-year-old at home with a fever. 

I reminded the jurors of the question about why one would send a criminal to prison.  Then we proceeded to discuss the crime and the number of convictions he had, in light of our reasons.  After two hours, we agreed on a 90-year sentence.

So what?  What does this have to do with home schooling?  Well, I was able to use this experience as a teaching opportunity.  The first evening when I came home, I could not talk about the trial itself, but I was able to explain to my children the process so far.  The second night, we sat around for some time as I went through the whole trial and talked about what had happened. 

The assistant DA who tried the case had thanked the jury after the trial was over and invited us to come to his office if we had any questions.  A few days later, I took my children with me and was able to get some things clarified.  Why was I chosen?  He was impressed with the close attention I paid. (Remember my reason?)  How much of his sentence would the criminal have to serve?  He would be up for parole in 15 years or one-quarter of his sentence, whichever came first (We could have stopped at 60 years instead of pushing for 90!). 

Besides being an example to my children of a good citizen, I was able to use this experience as a teaching opportunity.  My children had a firsthand report of the jury process.  I had brought into the courtroom something that is too often missing-a ruling based on a biblical worldview.  I had the opportunity to impact my community.

Did it cost me anything?  A little.  My children had to work on their own for two days.  My oldest, by that time, was 15 years old.  He was old enough to take care of his younger siblings for those days.  If that had not been an option, I could have found a substitute teacher, another home school mom, to supervise them as they did their assignments–just as they do in public school. 

I believe that we home educators are the kind of people who should serve on juries.  Many of us have the biblical worldview upon which our country was founded.  Most of us have a better grasp of the history and foundation of our country and its government, including the jury system, because we have been teaching this to our children.  All of us set examples to our children by our participation.