The US narrative regarding jury duty is that it’s made up of people too stupid to get out of serving jury duty. This despite the fact that it’s my understanding that lawyers will go out of their way to get you off a jury if they think you’re too smart, because they don’t want you to bring your own knowledge base to serving and would rather you were instead swayed by their experts. (Though I’m willing to bet the prosecutors of a certain famous case involving DNA wish they’d had a jury of people who understood the concept of DNA going in!) Despite the right to a jury trial’s being one of the core principles in American law, our pop culture basically ignores the subject.
Oh, there are exceptions. Runaway Jury is the first one that comes to mind, because title. Twelve Angry Men, of course. And, sigh, Jury Duty, with Pauly Shore. (Which has, now I look it up, an unjustly packed cast for a Pauly Shore movie, and I’m still not going to watch it.) But my children have a pretty good idea of how court cases work, for kids of their age—but mostly because we watch a lot of Perry Mason, which is almost always set during preliminary hearings and not trials at all. Meaning we never actually see juries on the vast majority of Perry Mason episodes. And the kids are too young for Law & Order.
The very concept of a jury should have more appeal. There’s a lot of drama to be had there; both Leverage and Crossing Jordan have played with it. (Crossing Jordan did so in a Twelve Angry Men pastiche done as only that show could; there’s also a funny line from the DA about how she wanted to kick Jordan off the jury but she’d already used all her peremptory challenges.) Mostly, though, when we focus on the court, we focus on the lawyers or the judges. Judge Harold T. Stone presided over a misdemeanor court that didn’t have a jury at all, and that’s probably the longest-running TV show (recently revived) that focused on a courtroom and not just a lawyer and his cases.
There’s only so much you can do for something long-running, of course. Maybe a case-of-the-week show, where you’re focusing on the bailiffs or something who watch juries come and go, and you get a peek into their deliberations and their lives. Sort of a Love Boat or Fantasy Island situation, where you’ve got your skeleton main characters running what’s basically an anthology set around the framework of the courtroom. Would the audience find out if the suspect were actually guilty? Maybe. Maybe you’d only hear what the jury said. Maybe not even that. There are plenty of ways to do it.
It is, however, strange that those little rooms all over the country that are so important to the proper running of the system are so ignored. That the system is so disparaged in general. The attitude of the entire system is “no one wants to be here.” The focus is on the nuisance factor—and goodness knows there is one, especially if you have an employer who doesn’t need to pay you for your time serving. My county pays a whopping ten bucks a day plus mileage for jurors. That can really screw up your budget, and thank goodness you’re able to plead financial hardship. However, it would be nice if we could see the important side of being called to be a juror, not just the annoying one.