Hope High School students received a lesson in North Dakota jurisprudence last Tuesday. Justice Jon Jensen of the North Dakota Supreme Court visited Hope High School on May 1 to talk about jury duty with Mr. Fontaine's Law and Justice II class.
Jensen, a 2017 appointee to the North Dakota Supreme Court, spoke for 90 minutes about the mechanics of jury selection, eligibility, jury service, and laws specific to North Dakota. He took questions from the students and fostered discussion with an open-ended style of hypothetical scenarios.
Jensen began his talk explaining the role of trial court judges in the state of North Dakota. "We have 51 trial court judges in North Dakota," Jensen said. "Those judges are responsible for everything from traffic tickets all the way up to murder trials. On the civil side, they are responsible for everything from family court to will contests. We expect our trial court judges in North Dakota to know just about everything about the law."
Speaking of the wide scope of law the judges are responsible for, Jensen acknowledged that it is not easy work. "They've (the judges) got a really hard job in North Dakota," said Jensen. "It is somewhat unusual because in most states the courts are more specialized with civil courts and probate court, juvenile court and criminal courts, etc. We have only one level of trial court."
Bias was a big topic of interest. Jensen posed questions to the students about bias and the students enthusiastically responded with their own definitions. Jensen pointed out that when people think about jury service, they think in terms of criminal cases. He went on to explain that the role of the juror, in criminal or civil action, is to be fair, unbiased, and not prejudiced and that the state is entitled to a fair trial as well as the defendant.
Jensen also discussed appropriate attire, the importance of serving on juries as a citizen, and the role of alternate jurors. He fielded questions from teachers as well as students and spoke passionately about his service as an attorney and judge.
"I've been visiting schools for three and a half years," Jensen said later. "I starting doing it when I was a district court judge. I decided to start this when I began seeing some of the misperceptions about jury service. For example, people think it takes longer than it does."
Jensen was further convinced of the need for more education when he read jury questionnaires after people completed their service. "When I would look at questionnaires that they filled out, they found the experience valuable," he said. "But people who hadn't served thought that it wasn't a valuable experience."
"The visits are a good way for kids to learn about the judicial system," Jensen said. "The wonderful questions the kids have, it's amazing how intuitive they are on bias and fairness."
Jensen also gives the presentations to service organizations such as professional groups, rotary clubs, and CPAs. As far as his own experience with juries, it has all been from behind the bench. "I was summoned twice, but never served," Jensen said with a laugh. "The first time I was summoned was one week before I took the district court bench. The second time I was summoned was one week after I took the Supreme Court bench and I didn't live there anymore."
Jensen hopes that the individuals and students who attend his presentations will be excited when and if their summons to serve comes. "If you participate in jury service I believe you'll find it's a rewarding experience," he said.
[The above was previously published in the Steele County Press and re-printed with permission.]
The presentation is part of an on-going community service project that Justice Jensen started several years ago to provide education and information on jury service in North Dakota. The presentation has been provided to service groups, professional associations and students. With the assistance of the Department of Public Instruction an invitation was provided to all of the High Schools in North Dakota to schedule a presentation this year and each year into the foreseeable future.