The importance of participating in jury service

Part 2 in a series from the Federal Way Jury Diversity Committee on racial disparities in jury service.

Editor’s note: This is Part 2 in a three-part series from the Federal Way Jury Diversity Committee on racial disparities in jury service. Read Part 1 here.

Exactly why is jury service important?

One might suggest that participation is important to protect the right to trial by jury. It is, but this assertion is nothing more than a platitude if one does not dig deeper into the reason the right to trial by jury exists in the first place.

Others might suggest that jury service is important to our democracy. That is also true, but that same sentiment can be felt by suggesting that we love baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet. It has a level of meaning to some with little understanding by all.

Yet, others might cite to the power of the collective mind as a superior tool in seeking the truth through the convergence of differing perceptions and perspectives. That would be true too, but the collective mind has also been the source of some of the worst horrors in history when the individual participants were informed by malevolent principles.

Of course, all of the above is true, but there remains the central question; why?

There has been a struggle throughout history between people wanting to exercise unjust power over others by suppressing individual freedom and people wanting to exercise individual freedom by suppressing unjust power. This struggle has been with us for thousands of years and will be with us until the end of time.

We do not need to look into the past for examples because the ascending and descending ladder we call human nature manifests itself right in front of our very eyes today. Part 1 laid out how choosing the lower rung of human nature has blemished and continues to blemish our own history by causing the racial disparities that bring us to the writing of this column.

It has rarely turned out well in history when power settled in one place. Life, liberty, and happiness for individuals were of little concern to those who held the reins of power. In response, our founders devised a system that broke up power and organized it in a way that kept it from settling in one place or with one person. The aspiration to discourage and prevent unjust government power manifested in three distinct branches of government, multiple states, multiple counties and cities, and states’ rights in balance with federal power.

Our founders also knew that making individual rights the top priority would serve us well in the battle against unjust power over individuals.

The right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, the prohibition of double jeopardy, the right to remain silent, the right to due process, the right to a speedy and public trial, the right to be informed of the charges against you, the right to confront witnesses against you, the right to call witnesses of your own, the right to counsel, the presumption of innocence, and the right be free from cruel and unusual punishment all originate with the notion that government power must be restrained with the power of inalienable individual rights.

However, all of the above rights lose their luster if we punt power back to government officials (judges) to decide our fate when our rights are implicated or challenged. Hence, the cherry on the top of all our rights that serves as the ultimate check on power is the right to trial by jury (our peers) in criminal and civil cases.

Some judges might think that they should just be trusted with our fates, but no person should be forced to rely upon the wisdom of government officials if their life, liberty, or property is in jeopardy. A jury of our peers is the ultimate check on the unrestrained power that would exist if one person (a judge) or even a small group of professionals (a panel of judges or professional jurors) decided our fate in criminal cases and civil cases.

So why are we telling you this? All of us regardless of race need to meet the call of jury service, but the “of our peers” part has been historically challenged and we need to act to remedy that injustice.

Stay tuned for Part 3 that will provide us with some hope as we move forward on this issue of utmost importance to us all.

Judge Dave Larson, Federal Way Municipal Court; Councilmember Hoang Tran; Nichelle Curtis-McQueen, Federal Way Diversity Commission; William Yi, Federal Way Diversity Commission; Pastor Joe Bowman, Jr., Integrity Life Church; Lawrence Garrett, Advancing Leadership; Sandra Englund, Korean American Community Member.