News & Insights
The Importance of Juries–and How We Can Support Them
Litigation Section of the State Bar of Texas Chair Report
Juries serve a crucial role in both civil and criminal litigation – but they are criticized and few want to serve on them
In thinking about the overlap between criminal and civil litigation, I am reminded of a common bond between the two: juries play a central, crucial role in resolving our society’s disputes. Whether they are determining civil liability or criminal culpability, our justice system relies upon jurors to decide issues from the mundane to the monumental. Jurors are the vicarious voice of their community – literally democracy in action.
My wife Emily was recently called to jury duty in Harris County. While she was happy to fulfill her civic responsibility, she was concerned about the disruption that a lengthy trial might bring to our family. Among the press of daily errands and the busy-ness of life, a jury summons represents an additional time commitment and hassle many would prefer to avoid. When she returned from the courthouse that day, however, she bubbled over with stories from the experience. She had been a member of the venire during the jury selection in a headline-grabbing case: Antonio “A.J.” Armstrong Jr. was accused of murdering his parents while they slept in their Bellaire-area townhome. He was just 16 at the time of the events in question. Two juries had already failed to come to consensus regarding a verdict, one in 2019 and the other in 2022. Emily was not seated on the jury, but left the experience deeply moved by the gravity of jurors’ responsibilities, the solemnity of the proceedings, and the gut-wrenching decisions that lay ahead for the twelve citizens who held Mr. Armstrong’s fate in their hands. What had started as an inconvenience transformed into an eye-opening lesson that reminded her of the importance of juries and the crucial role citizens play in the judicial system. This story repeats itself every day in our courts: those who react to the call for jury duty with reluctance (or even dread) gain a deep appreciation for the role and the judicial system once they experience jury selection (and perhaps a trial). To a person, every juror I have spoken to after a verdict in one of my trials appreciated and enjoyed serving on a jury – no matter how much they had originally hoped to avoid it.
As a lawyer, I sometimes get asked by friends or family, “What is the best way to avoid getting picked for a jury?” I deflect and respond, “Please don’t try to avoid it in the first place.” The same people who complain that they do not trust juries are often the same ones who try to avoid serving as a juror. In my practice, I frequently represent corporations. Business leaders involved in litigation often fret about the prospect of “runaway juries,” and worry that a venire will have too few thoughtful, educated citizens to serve as potential jurors. But sometimes those same businesspeople will brag about how clever they themselves were in avoiding jury service by saying just the right thing during voir dire to convince the parties to strike them from the panel. The cognitive dissonance is stunning: on one hand, they believe that they themselves are too important to serve on a jury, but on the other, they complain that Texas juries do not include more people like them. Here is the simple truth: if you want to have a jury of your peers when you have a dispute, you need to be willing to serve when called to resolve someone else’s dispute.
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