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MIT Students Not Inconvenienced by Massachusetts Jury Duty System

By Ramy A. Arnaout
Associate News Editor

The Massachusetts Jury Commission summoned roughly 275,000 residents to serve jury duty last year, according to Jury Commissioner Frank Davis. These prospective jurors included a fair number of college students who, under state law, are not exempted from serving.

The issue of whether collegians should be required to serve duty was brought up in a recent letter to The Boston Globe. The letter writer scolded the state for not exempting students, especially out-of-state students, from jury duty, stating that serving the time would be unfair and inconvenient.

However, it seems that this view is not widely shared at MIT. While some do find the summons disruptive, most feel that the ability to postpone duty to a future date overcomes any inconvenience, and that the state's law is fair.

"Jury duty is pretty much the only way to have an effect on crime and generally making this a better place," said Brian C. Berman '95. "As obligations go, it's pretty minor. I'm looking forward to getting called for it some time," he said.

"Should collegians be excused?" Berman said. "No, I don't think so. Our obligations as students are generally less binding and more flexible than those of other professionals."

Theresa V. Iuzzolino '93, who was called to duty during her sophomore year, agreed. "I'd rather be called to jury duty now than at some point [later] in my life," she said. Iuzzolino said that she has less at stake nowwith no family, making less money per hour, and having a flexible schedule.

"I did serve (about 10 years ago), and it really wasn't a big deal at all," said Robert L. Krawitz '87, who was able to postpone his appointment until just after the academic term.

System fair, flexible

Most people selected for jury duty never serve for a trial, Davis said. The Commission summons an excess of jurors to be ready in the event that there are many cases, he said. "Last I checked, 86.6 percent of those summoned don't serve."

Judges are generally sympathetic to students' schedules, and students are not generally chosen for long cases. The system allows students to postpone the service date as far as a year, Davis said.

In addition, if the location of the trial is a problem, a person can choose a more convenient place to serve, he said. The judges "are generally pretty flexible," he said.

"The judge has to tell you how long how long [the trial] will take" before you are chosen, Davis said. But duty is over before one o'clock for the vast majority of jurors, he added.

Once called, people generally "go there, read the newspaper until about one o'clock," when the judge tells them whether they are needed as jurors, "and then go home," Davis said. Once chosen to serve, people will not be eligible to serve again for three years, he said.

The fine for ignoring jury duty is $2,000, Davis said.

System favors fair representation

The current no-exemptions policy went into effect for Boston in 1978. "By 1988, all counties reported that the law was being enforced," Davis said.

The rationale behind the law was to provide the courts with a jury more representative of the population, Davis said. Before 1978, "you would be judged by people 70 to 75 years old. We were getting either retirees who didn't mind going to jury or union people who were being paid for the jury duty full-time," he said.

He gave the hypothetical example of a student who might be arrested at a fraternity party, and who would much rather have a jury at least partially made up of peers.

"It just doesn't seem fair for us to grab kids from out-of-state, but when we explain it, they begin to realize it's not unreasonable," Davis said.