Jury duty

The absence of four jurors from a recent honor trial does not prove student juries are incompetent

As a former student juror for an honor trial, I would like to respond to the recent article in The Cavalier Daily regarding the attendance of jurors (“Four jurors miss hearing,” Feb. 25). In the article, the issue of attendance is clearly overblown by fourth-year Engineering student Clifton Bumgardner, the vice chair for trials. The fact that “on average, one juror does not show up to almost every one of the 20 or so honor trials each semester” itself dispels the notion that there is a crisis in juror turnout. If, on average, only one juror is missing at each trial, very few trials would ever be put in jeopardy of cancellation. In fact, Mr. Bumgardner admits that during his tenure as vice chair for trials, he has not needed to cancel a trial based on insufficient juror turnout — which confirms that there is no cause for alarm. Evidently, the Honor Committee sees juror absences as a chronic problem, yet has taken no steps to correct it. The proposed jury reform in the Restore the Ideal Act — replacing student jury panels with panels of Honor Committee members — is a solution, albeit a very drastic one. A more reasonable solution would be to have more jurors called at each trial to add a margin of safety to the quorum.

I am strongly disappointed in Mr. Bumgardner’s use of this anomaly as an opportune political statement about the Restore The Ideal Act. Mr. Bumgardner sees this issue as a reason to push for so-called “jury reform.” But I see it as just the opposite. The student jurors who served on the panel with me were focused, asked thought-provoking and pertinent questions, and above all, were genuinely interested in the pursuit of the truth. The depth and breadth of their experiences as students of all levels was invaluable in reaching our verdict. Based on my experience as a juror, I find it very reasonable to believe that a jury panel consisting of Committee members would not have been as impartial as one with jurors having no Honor Committee affiliation.

Mr. Bumgardner makes it clear in the article that jurors who fail to attend their scheduled trial can be subject to University Judiciary Committee charges against them. I endorse the idea that there should be consequences for jurors who shirk their duty as members of the community of trust. Mr. Bumgardner, however, said he does not actively pursue these charges. If the Honor Committee is looking for ways to reform the jury system, it would be prudent to start enforcing punishments for missing jurors who do not have a legitimate excuse. By not actively implementing this policy, the Committee does not place as much value on the roles of student jurors as it claims.

Rendering a verdict in an honor trial is not an easy or inconsequential task. It is not, however, a task that student jurors are incapable of handling adequately.

Chris Collins is a second-year Engineering student.

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