My patriotic, flag-waving jury service speech

Judge Layne Smith

Q. Judge Smith, I’ve heard you talk about the importance of jury service. Can you cover that topic with your readers? Thank you, Ken.

A. Ken, nothing is more American than our jury system, and every time I qualify jurors, I give them my patriotic, flag-waving jury service speech. To set the mood, imagine someone in the background is playing “Yankee Doodle” on a flute. Here goes:
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room.

You probably weren’t thrilled to be called for jury service. I get it. You’re busy and have other things to do. However, let’s talk about the importance of jury service.

We fought and won the Revolutionary War partially because the British legal system was unfair to us. People died and blood has been spilt to earn you this privilege.

In colonial days, judges were appointed by the King. They were beholden to the King and could be replaced by the King. They served the Crown, not the people, and they had no incentive to do right by the people.

Colonial defendants didn’t enjoy the rights we take for granted. They didn’t have the right to jury trials or the right to the assistance of counsel. They had no right against self-incrimination and could be forced to testify. If they remained silent, their silence could be used against them.

British authorities didn’t have to tell colonial defendants what they were accused of and people languished in jails under cruel conditions. People and their property could be searched and seized without good cause and without the review and approval of an independent judge. If a colonist was acquitted at trial and the Crown didn’t like the result, the colonist could be re-tried for the same offense.

These British abuses were so chronic that our founders separated the powers of government and instituted a system of checks and balances to prevent any person or branch from accumulating too much power.

Our founders understood human nature and believed that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” They structured our government to protect us from tyrants.

Trials by juries allow regular people, randomly selected from the community, to hear evidence and decide the facts of cases. Juries protect us from the tyranny of appointed and elected officials, religious figures and the mob mentality. The role juries play in our system of justice is so important that it is guaranteed by the Constitution.

Now, let’s make it personal. Suppose, God forbid, that you or a loved one were on trial today. Your fate or their fate would depend on a group of strangers who didn’t want to be here. Let that sink in for a moment.

Our goal is to pick jurors who’ll be fair and impartial to both sides and who will fulfill their promises to follow the law. So please be honest and patient. Thank you, and God bless you.

J. Layne Smith is a Leon County Judge who speaks and writes about civics, law, and the administration of justice. Email your questions to

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