Jury duty: civil duty, maybe -- pain for Mass. colleges, always

by Beacon Staff • December 3, 2008

I used to be so jealous of my parents when I heard they had jury duty-ihow cool would it be to sit in on a live trial?/i Even if they weren't selected, just having the opportunity was fascinating to me. I never understood the grumbles under their breath, the annoyed sigh or the roll of the eyes.

A few weeks ago though, I too sighed with annoyance upon receipt of that small white envelope. I was being summoned to fulfill my "civic obligation." Worse, the summons was not for my home state of Connecticut, but for Massachusetts.

Apparently for college students in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, it is our obligation to waste a day at jury duty, regardless of the state of our geographical origin. Massachusetts juries are chosen from a list of individuals 17 years of age or older who live in the commonwealth, according to the website for the Massachusetts Office of Jury Commissioner. Permanent residence in the state is not a determining factor. Instead, a simple mailing address in Massachusetts determines eligibility for summons.

While there are several reasons one may be disqualified from jury duty, such as inability to speak English or being over 70, being a full-time student and having permanent residency in another state are not grounds for disqualification.

The eligibility of students both in their home state and in the state of Massachusetts is essentially double dipping into the pool of eligible voters. This makes it possible for students to have to serve twice in the same time span as people who are only pulled once.

For some, it may seem perfectly reasonable to pull college students for jury duty-they do, after all, represent a large population of Massachusetts "residents." For students, especially those who live out of state, a summons is more than an intrusion and an inconvenience. Students are not compensated for their "inconveniences" and, more importantly, they might be missing a day of classes. The learning potentially missed during that day is not easily made up.

Now, all individuals may postpone their court date if need be and, as students, especially those of us that live out of state, this may be our only option. Postponing the date to the summer, as I did, may relieve some of the immediate stress, but out of state, students are then required to travel from wherever they have permanent residency to Massachusetts for their assigned date.

On the Office of Jury Commissioner's website, it is said to be understood that "many people consider jury duty an inconvenience, an intrusion and a hardship." In response to these considerations, Mass. uses the "one day, one trial" system in which a juror serves one day, or if selected, one trial. While this may relieve the burden of inconvenience for some, I can't say the same for college students. If the magnitude of the inconvenience were truly understood, the Mass. would dismiss out of state students from service, reassign them to their state of residency, or not summon them at all.

Although I do not understand this law, I will be back in Boston on June 19, fulfilling my "civic obligation" in a state in which I do not claim permanent residency. I will be back because I would rather serve a day in jury duty than a night in jail. I will be back-unless of course, Connecticut summons me for service on the same date.

iGabrielle Tassone is a freshman print journalism major and a contributor to /iThe Beaconi./i