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Citizen Responsibilities

Obeying Laws
Paying Taxes
Jury Duty
Serve as a Witness
Register for the Draft

More Citizenship Resources: Becoming a Citizen - Citizen Rights - Volunteering

The duties or responsibilities of a United States citizen can be separated into two groups: mandatory responsibilities, such as paying taxes, and duties not demanded by law, such as voting.  police1.jpg (20502 bytes)

Mandatory: Obeying Laws

Laws are the rules under which a society or community is governed. Everyone who lives in the United States, regardless if they are citizens or not, must obey federal, state and local laws. Laws are necessary because no society could exist if all people did just as they pleased, without respecting the rights of others. Police officers and courts make sure that laws are obeyed.  If a person breaks a law there is a penalty or punishment. The penalty for breaking a law depends on the law.   For example, the punishment for not shoveling your sidewalk after it snows is less steep than the punishment for stealing a car. Take a moment to search or browse through the current United States Code and the Utah Code.

Mandatory: Paying Taxes

Taxes are required payments of money to the government. You may be wondering why we pay taxes (pdf). Taxes are necessary because they pay for things that most individuals could not possibly purchase for themselves, such a fire protection, schools, roads and much more. 

taxes1.jpg (30478 bytes)There are many different types of taxes: federal income tax, state income tax, property tax, excise tax (tax on tobacco, alcohol, gas), social security tax and sales tax.  Each type of tax pays for different public programs and services. For example, federal taxes pay for F.B.I. agents, Medicare doctors, federal judges, national park rangers, veterans benefits,  federal prisons and much more. Some of the things that state taxes pay for include state highways, universities, public schools, state parks and police officers.

To learn more about taxes visit these web sites:

Mandatory: Jury Duty

The right to a trial by jury is the privilege of every person in the United States, whether citizen or not. This right is guaranteed by both the United States and Utah Constitutions. However, it also requires that citizens give of their time to serve as jurors, and thus do their part to protect this American right. A jury consists of 12 Jury.gif (3113 bytes) people who are selected to hear the evidence in a civil or a criminal trial. After the jurors hear the evidence presented during the trial, they must try to decide if the defendant is guilty or not guilty.

While being called to jury duty can be viewed as an inconvenience, many citizens also find it to be a learning process and a rewarding experience as well as a civic responsibility. Jurors' names are selected at random from lists of registered voters and individuals who have a driver's license issued by the Utah Department of Motor Vehicles.  If an individual is chosen for jury duty, he or she must stop work and attend the trial as long as he or she is needed. Every American of legal age is subject to jury duty, unless he or she can show that such service would constitute a severe personal hardship.

Mandatory: Serve as a Witness

If you are subpoenaed or summoned to serve as a witness you must comply. A witness is someone who is called to testify under oath in a court trial or hearing about information or knowledge he or she might have about the case.

Mandatory: Register for the Draft

flagstarstrip1.jpg (19339 bytes)Virtually all males living in the United States are required to register with Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthday. Currently, women aren't required to register because the Selective Service law refers specifically to "male persons" in stating who must register and who would be drafted. Congress would have to amend the law for women to be required to register with Selective Service.

Registering does not mean a man will automatically be taken into the military. During times of crisis or war, the government may decide that they need larger military forces than they feel they could get through voluntary enlistment. If this happens the Selective Service will:

Today, males can register online at the Selective Service web site or at their local Post Office.

vote1a.jpg (29200 bytes)Voluntary: Voting

The right to vote is a duty or responsibility as well as a privilege. It is important for all citizens to vote in every election to make sure that the democratic, representative system of government is maintained. Persons who do not vote lose their voice in the government. Before voting in an election, each citizen should be well informed about the issues and candidates. For more information about voting, go to the Elections section of this web site.


Illustrations by David Chen © 1997. All rights reserved Utah Education Network.