Barron: Students Need Academic Protection for Jury Service

Courtesy The Blue Diamond Gallery

The Blue Diamond Gallery

Courtesy The Blue Diamond Gallery

By Morgan Barron

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As I listened intently to the pre-recorded message, I kept muttering, “21, 21, 21,” like a strung out gambler at a Vegas blackjack table. But instead of counting cards, I was counting jurors. If the Third District Court Clerk selected 21 jurors tonight instead of 40 — as she had for the past two nights — my reporting number would not be called and I would not be summoned to appear in court on Friday. The litany of 21s was replaced with a relieved smile as the clerk’s message explained no cases were scheduled for the remainder of the week and dismissed all potential jurors from service.

My relief at not being summoned may appear to reaffirm tired sentiments like “no one under 40 even knows what civic duty is” and that millennials are disconnected from their community. However, such a narrative is offensive. For university students like myself, jury summons are more than just inconvenient, they can have real academic and financial consequences as schools in Utah have “no legal obligation to accommodate a student’s absence due to jury duty.”

Utah Judicial Code 78B-1-116 reads, “An employer may not deprive an employee of employment … or otherwise coerce the employee regarding employment because the employee receives a summons, responds to it [and] serves as a juror.” This protection is necessary as jury duty is mandatory and no profession is exempt from serving on a jury in the state of Utah. Unfortunately, similar protection is not afforded to university students.

Status — or being a full-time student — does not excuse individuals from jury duty. Students are dependent on their professors’ willingness to allow them to make up the assignments, quizzes or exams that they missed while serving. While some of my professors appeared to be willing to modify my coursework if I was summoned, they did not have to. If I was selected to serve for an extended period of time, they were not obligated to continue making such accommodations.  

The characterization of students as “jury dodgers” is unfair when you consider the adverse impact of student absence on academic success. While the average trial in Utah lasts for only two days, being absent from multiple challenging college courses can cause a student to struggle to understand the fundamental concepts covered during their absence. They may also miss in-class assignments, quizzes or even tests. About 54% of students attending the University of Utah do so on scholarship, many of which are grade-dependent. Achieving good grades is important and the failure to pass a class could not only delay a student’s graduation date, but even jeopardize their needed scholarship money. Many students at the U are driven by civic virtue to vote and volunteer with the Bennion Center. They should also be free to serve on juries without fearing how this may impact their academic career.

As shown by cases like the Hoyt trial or the Emmett Till murder trial, a representative jury is vital for the American justice system to operate correctly. However, as students are not afforded academic protection for their service, most who are summoned to serve will be dismissed by a judge from jury duty for “undue hardship.” To increase the diversity of thought and experience on juries, an addition to the Utah Judicial Code must be made for students. Universities should be required by law to support students called for jury service by allowing student jurors additional time to complete homework, the ability to make up in-class quizzes or exams and additional access to professors if necessary.

Jury duty can impact any student with little warning, so every student at the U should contact their state representatives and ask for academic protection for students summoned to serve on a jury. If even half of the 32,760 students currently enrolled at the U called or wrote their state representative, the need for such protection would be realized and the issue could become part of the 2020 legislative agenda.

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@TheChrony