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Trial By Jury — By John Reed

Trial By Jury
Monday morning, I became a “peer.” Answering the mandatory invitation, I showed up at the courthouse for jury duty. Close to a hundred others came as well, by car, by pickup truck, even one by skateboard. White, black, Latino, male, female. We were a mixed bag, drawn from all levels of local society.
The tradition of trials by a jury of one’s peers dates back thousands of years in some cultures. The American colonies inherited the idea from English common law, which had been in place since at least the 1100’s. Fast forward nine centuries and easily that many attempts to codify things, and we have the system that exists today. It’s rarely perfect, but certainly better than any other legal system on Earth.
If you’ve never had jury duty, you don’t know the tremendous amount of logistics and effort it takes to mount a trial. Court officials, lawyers for each side, police or sheriff’s deputies for security, media, the defendant, and of course the jurors. All of this costs money: a lot of money. Everyone who gets called gets a check for that day, even if they don’t get culled to the final twelve.
Think about all that money [thousands of dollars] and where it comes from [us the taxpayers]. Be glad the trial ended before it started with the defendant changing his plea to guilty. This thought led me to consider how we might change the system.
Criminals already cost society when they commit their crimes. They cost us again when we mount a trial. The guilty ones continue to cost us as they spend months or years behind bars. Maybe it’s time to add the concept of restitution to penalty.
Sure, there are many prison work programs already in existence. But do they come even close to generating the income needed to feed, house, and guard criminals? I’m not suggesting we go back to the days of chain gangs, but a lot more products besides license plates can be made in prison. Driving through Tattnall County, it’s clear that prison-based agriculture can be a thriving enterprise.
Along with education, criminal justice is the largest expense in our state budget…the same is true at the county and city level. Maybe we should look at getting some back.

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