PUBLISHED: May 9, 2016 in the San Bernardino Sun
I have been fortunate to be a part of our judicial system for nearly four decades. As a district attorney of the County of San Bernardino now in my fourth term, it has been my personal mission to fight violent crime and corruption and make victims’ rights a priority.
In representing the people in the criminal justice system for the County of San Bernardino, we must do so in a manner that upholds the ethical responsibilities of those in public service — I as a prosecutor, you as a juror.
Throughout my career I have been fortunate to see first-hand the influence individuals can have on our legal system and the power each of us within it hold to interpret, enforce and uphold the law. Those who have served on a jury, in particular, are vital to the effectiveness of our judicial process.
Jury service goes beyond a civic duty or a safeguard for liberty and justice. Jurors decide the fate of those who face our complex justice system. Jurors determine right or wrong, guilt or innocence. They bring fairness, equality and balance. They preserve freedom and basic rights, and just as easily, can take them away. The role of the juror is important to the civil and criminal justice systems, to say the least — lives depend on them.
This week, California recognizes this vital contribution from citizens as part of Juror Appreciation Week.
I am thrilled to be a part of this year’s 19th Annual Juror Appreciation Week, honoring those of you who serve. This is a time to express gratitude for jury service — for those who have helped to guarantee Californians are afforded the opportunity for a trial by an impartial jury, perpetuating a fair legal system that benefits us all.
I urge those who haven’t served on a jury to join those who take pride in our judicial system and to take advantage when given the honorable opportunity to serve.
Unfortunately, many of those summoned to serve fail to appear for duty.
I understand that employment can be a factor. Employees who serve often miss work and sometimes a paycheck. While many employers compensate workers for time spent in jury service, others do not. This can be a deterrent for some but I’m hopeful this will change.
For Californians who have employers who support one of the greatest rights and responsibilities of being a U.S. citizen — serving on a jury — there should be no excuse for avoiding this duty.
On average, three times as many citizens need to be asked to appear for jury service to achieve the needed number of jurors to fill a jury. Jurors make excuses, are disqualified or request postponements. Often, the jurors selected fail to show up for duty. What’s left are the same individuals showing up to serve, representing civilians through the same perspectives — over and over again.
Juries are intended to consist of people with different backgrounds and experiences so that a fair verdict can be determined. When jurors avoid service, the juror diversity pool shrinks. This means the quality of justice for plaintiffs and defendants diminishes with it.
Seeking justice on behalf of victims is something I have carried out for decades. Juries must represent a blend of the community, representational of all points of view, for justice to be properly served. Every citizen is expected to serve on a jury when called. We all need to serve when called. A fair trial requires a full and well-constructed jury. I urge you, in honor of Juror Appreciation Week, to seek and fulfill your opportunity to serve. Together, we will find justice.
Mike Ramos is district attorney of San Bernardino County.