May 7, 2010

No Women on a Jury?

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Dear Peggy,
I don’t want to be on jury duty and always thought that the Missouri Constitution guarantees the right to women to get out of jury duty without giving any reason. When I called the Court and told them it was not convenient for me to serve, I was told that I’d better show up as instructed and as the law requires, 'or else’! Does the law REQUIRE that women serve on juries?

Hi Mindy:
The information you received was REALLY out of date!

It is true that until 1979 – in Missouri-- a woman could get out of (an “exemption” from) jury duty, just by asking, and a man could not! The underlying rationale was, that a woman’s participation wasn’t all that valuable, anyway.

But in 1979 the United States Supreme Court said that it was not constitutional to treat women differently than men regarding jury duty. In addition to simply being unfair to men, that Missouri law violated the requirement that juries be composed of people from all walks of life. The new laws recognizing the equal rights of women also meant that women have equal responsibilities.

There are reasons that you -- and others -- can be excused from serving on a jury but those reasons can’t be based on just whether the proposed juror is a man or a woman!

In addition to serving on a jury being a valuable public service and an education in itself – it is usually a really interesting and memorable experience. I would love to be chosen for a jury panel, but lawyers are usually disqualified, by one side or the other.

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