Does being an American even matter: Jailed for skipping jury duty

3 Nov

Here’s today’s COMMENT FROM AN OLD FART: Moi is proud of who she is, from her ethnic heritage to the fact that she has in the words of Gloria Gayner’s song “I Will Survive,” survived quite a bit of hardship. Moi is still standing. One of the things moi is proudest about is to stand for being a U.S. citizen and calling herself an American.

Eric Pfeiffer reports in the Yahoo News article, Texas man jailed after failing to appear for jury duty:

A Texas man has been sent to jail after repeatedly skipping jury duty.

There is a near universal dread of being called to jury duty. But the case of Jose Bocanegra Jr. is an unusual reminder of how shirking one’s government-mandated responsibility to pass judgment on one’s fellow citizens can result in getting yourself into trouble with the law.

“He tried to get disqualified by stating he was a felon—that got denied,” Jury Bailiff Paula Morales told a local Dallas-Fort Worth affiliate. “He tried to get excused by claiming he was the caretaker of an invalid. We couldn’t substantiate that, so that was denied.”

Sometimes Bocanegra, 20, just simply didn’t show up for his assigned jury duty.

Interestingly, the authorities finally went after Bocanegra when he did show up for jury dutyonly to leave the scene minutes later. A bench warrant for his arrest was then promptly issued.

Legally, a person cannot be asked to serve on a jury more than once every two years. Though most individuals are asked to serve at far more infrequent intervals.

There are several ways an individual can legally attempt to avoid jury duty, citing various professional, personal and legal conflicts. And beyond that, you may not even be asked to formally serve on a specific jury when you show up for the selection process. But if someone blatantly skips jury duty, the repercussions vary across different jurisdictions. In some cases, an individual will simply be assigned to serve on another jury. Or the individual may be fined. Or, as in the case of Bocanegra, the person can actually be sent to prison.

“I called him… his phone wasn’t accepting phone messages. I sent him an email, told him it was imperative that he contact me immediately, and we never heard back from him,” Morales told CBS. “So then I was forced to take it to the judge.”

The next day Bocanegra stood handcuffed in front of a judge who held him in contempt of court. In explaining his absence from jury duty, Bocanegra reportedly told the judge he didn’t like waiting in line and that jury duty was too time-consuming.

“I didn’t want to because it’s all the way in Fort Worth—way out of the way,” Bocanegra said in the courtroom.

Many self-employed people and those who employers don’t pay wages for time survived on jury duty are deterred from serving. Jury duty is just one aspect of what it means to be a citizen of a country. Quite often the jury reimbursement rates are too low to compensate reasonably for jury service. Still, jury service is just one aspect of citizenship. For the record, moi would not have sentenced Mr. Bocanegra to jail, but to a civics class to learn about the U.S. Constitution.

Scholastic Magazine prints responses from school children in the article, What does it mean to be an American? Typical of the responses is:

To be an American to me means that I am free. That when I grow up I can pick the job I want, what shift to work. And to have a good education. It means that I can say “The Pledge of Allegiance” and that I can vote for the President, my county clerk, and the Mayor. But to me it means most of all to be free and to be proud that I live in the United States of America here in Wisconsin.
Ashley M., 10, Wisconsin

The kids, like most of us, relish our freedoms, but we don’t relish our responsibilities.

Perhaps one of the best definitions of what it means to be an American comes from Congressman Lee H. Hamilton in a 2003 Congressional Conference on Civic Education. Here is a portion of Congressman Hamilton’s remarks:

We are here today because the success of any democracy is determined by the participation of its citizens.

Lincoln asked whether a nation devoted to the values of liberty, equality, justice and opportunity “so conceived…can long endure.”

In these words, he told us a truth about our democracy – that its survival is never guaranteed, and that its success demands wisdom, action and even vigilance from American citizens.

Thus, I focus my remarks today on the basic question: what does it mean to be an American citizen?

What do we owe?

First, what do we – as American citizens – owe?

We begin with gratitude. As many have said, the joy of being an American is the joy of freedom and opportunity.

We have been bequeathed freedom, justice and opportunity from the deeds and commitments – even the spilled blood – of Americans who came before us.

We did not earn the inheritance. This nation of unequaled wealth and power, of freedom and opportunity, was given to us.

But no matter how rich and powerful it becomes, America is not – and never will be – a finished project. It is always aborning. You and I are handed a work in progress – one that can evolve for good or for ill.

American democracy makes a wager on its citizens. The deal is simple – with freedom comes obligation, with liberty comes duty. If that deal is not kept, democracy is threatened.

Lincoln said at Gettysburg: “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.” He spoke of a “new birth of freedom” so that government of, by and for the people would not perish.

You and I must learn – and we must teach our young – the words we live by: the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the other grand documents of American history. And we must learn and teach about the institutions that bring life and permanence to these words and deeds so familiar to us, so that they may fulfill Lincoln’s charge.

Democracy is not fixed like a monarchy. It is dynamic. Democracy reflects the will – and above all the action – of each generation of American citizens.

So what do we owe? As Americans we owe a profound debt of gratitude for the actions of those who preceded us, and we owe those who will follow an America that is even greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.

Being an American is not a question of color, language, income, or class. The answer is a commonality and an acceptance of the rights and the responsibilities guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Too bad so many of the “leaders” don’t get that they should be leading us toward the commonality of citizenship rather than the fractiousness of the the poll driven demographic.

What is the essence of America?  Finding and maintaining that perfect, delicate balance between freedom “to” and freedom “from.”                                           Marilyn vos Savant, in Parade

[P]atriotism… is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.                                                                      Adlai Stevenson

A man’s country is not a certain area of land, of mountains, rivers, and woods, but it is a principle; and patriotism is loyalty to that principle.                           George William Curtis

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