Aristotle wrote in On Rhetoric about the role of the juror. “We must argue that the juror's oath "I will give my verdict according to honest opinion" means that one will not simply follow the letter of the written law.” (1). He expanded upon this by telling the reader it is the duty of the juror to assess both the written law and the facts and opinions presented in a case.
The word “juror” is derived from the Latin word jurare, which literally means to swear. (2). Jurare can then be traced back to the more formal and simple form of “jus”, or “the law”. We can see that just through the transformation of the word, one who serves on a jury both formally and informally swears by the law.
Uses of juror can be traced back to ancient Greece, and its use has been seen numerous times already within this class. Some historians argue the reasoning behind selecting around 500 male citizens over the age of thirty to act as a jury was due to massive greed. If the jury was to be tampered with and bribed, it would be much harder if not impossible to bribe 500 separate men. (3)
Greek logographer put weighed his opinion of the function of juries in 395 BC in his work Against Alchibiades: “Now it is reasonable, gentlemen of the jury, that men who are now trying such a case for the first time since we settled the peace should act not merely as jurors, but in fact as law-makers. For you know well that your decision upon these cases will determine the attitude of the city towards them for all time.” (4)
When it comes to recent scholarship, some contemporary scholars have argued that juries are not capable of the duty they are assigned. Studies have examined how rhetoric, if used correctly, sways juries and makes them unpredictable when it comes to their duties to oversee a judicial trial. Furthermore, current juries are plagued with apathy, and the word “duty” attached to serving on a jury has become more of a burden than a service to the community. (5)
In fact, Elizabeth Britt examined and outlined a current movement to make a juror’s decision in a trial based more on probabilities and statistics. This movement is fueled by fears that rhetoric is clouding the contemporary courtroom and further affecting a juror’s ability to reasonably oversee the current laws and facts presented within a case.
Overall, I find it very interesting that a juror’s duty has morphed from a civic responsibility to an inconvenience. Perhaps further study or discussion can help answer the question of how and why this transformation occurred.
(1) Aristotle, On Rhetoric, Book I Chapter 15.
(2) “Jury”, Online Dictionary Etymology http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?l=j&p=5
(3) “Criminal Procedure in Ancient Greece and the Trial of Socrates”, http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/socrates/greekcrimpro.html
(4) Lysias, Against Alchibiades 1, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0154:speech=14:section=4&highlight=juror
(5) McCaster, A., “CSI Affect: Yet Another Excuse for Juror Apathy?” National Law Journal, 2005.