Who’s afraid of older jurors?

Turns out it’s the Brits. Well, they’re not as spooked by them as they used to be. Currently, there is a limit that jurors cannot be over 70 years old, but that limit is rising to 75. As reported in the Daily Mirror, the Justice Secretary Chris Graying explained that

“Jury service is, and remains, a cornerstone of the British justice system laid down in the Magna Carta almost 800 years ago. Every year, thousands of people give their time to take part in this vital function…Our society is changing and it is essential that the criminal justice system moves with the times. This is about harnessing the knowledge and life experiences of a group of people who can offer significant benefits to the court process.”

Well, it’s good to “keep up with the times,” but what aspect of our world makes it necessary to deny a 76 year-old the right to serve on a jury? We have all met people that age or higher who we would sooner recommend for jury service than their juniors, whether 18 or 48.

An arbitrary upper age limit seems contrary to the juror’s right to serve, something my co-authors and I celebrated in the book The Jury & Democracy. Our main finding was that service gives jurors a civic boost by increasing various forms of political and community engagement, so any group that gets denied that opportunity loses out on the chance to drink that elixir.Such bans are unheard of in the U.S., but before Americans get too smug, a colleague (thanks, Valerie Hans!) pointed out that many states offer exemptions to seniors. In Texas, for instance, anyone 70 or older can opt to be crossed off the jury rolls for the rest of their life. It’s not the same as a ban, but it is at least a nudge, or even enticement, to opt out of the jury system.
Bottom line: Don’t pass up a chance to serve on a jury, lest you age-out of the system.

Posted in Juries around the world, Jury structure and reform, Social/political impact of juries, Summoning juries | Leave a comment

More worries about the shrinking civil jury

This blog, and many other sources, have noted the low percentage of civil (and criminal) trials that go to a jury. A recent news article in the Grand Rapids Business Journal offers a somewhat different take than most have on the issue. In this view, the problem may be the massive paperwork required for many modern civil trials. Quoting the President of the West Michigan Chapter of the Federal Bar Association,

“The trial has been under siege … for a lot of different reasons that have worked together. One of the main reasons, in my opinion, is technology. The huge expanse of technology and information out there has, in a lot of ways, bogged down the ability to prosecute and present the case.”

The article noted,

40 or even 30 years ago, a trial typically would include only a handful of documents — a stack an inch thick would be considered a lot of documents. But today, lawyers are typically dealing with hundreds or thousands of documents for each case, which are likely to include emails and even text messages.

So the theory goes, this pushes attorneys into avoidance mode–hoping to settle the case rather than crawling through a tedious discovery, then dragging all those documents back through a lengthy jury trial.

Remedies discussed in the article include limits on the documents used in trial, accelerating the pace of discovery, and more. Read on to get more ideas from the article, which happily acknowledges the civic import of the civil jury.

Posted in Conducting trials, Social/political impact of juries | Leave a comment

An atypical psychological impact of jury duty

“Dear Prudence,” an advice column in Slate, this week responded to the story of a juror whose experience reviewing evidence in a sexual assault case left the juror with memories that stunted her ability to fantasize. The juror had previously been aroused principally by relatively aggressive sexual behavior, but after witnessing the evidence of a sexual assault, the juror lost her appetite.

Prudence offered this advice to the juror:

As humans we have a vast imaginative capacity, and the movies we create in our heads are private and personal works of art. You don’t have to replace your go-to fantasy. Delight in the fact that you are a woman who has a rich, complex, and satisfying erotic life.

That’s reassuring, perhaps, but the case points out two things often overlooked about jury service. First, reviewing evidence in difficult cases can leave a mark on jurors’ memories that last weeks, years, or even a lifetime, for better or worse. Second, the experience of jury duty can sometimes expose jurors to realities that they otherwise successfully avoid, or see only through fiction and dramatizations.

Though this is an admittedly unusual juror account of the service experience, it’s another reminder of the sheer range of impacts jury duty has on people every day.

Posted in Conducting trials, Social/political impact of juries | 1 Comment

Demystifying jury duty

It’s not often that a newspaper runs a story that debunks common misconceptions about jury duty, so I single out a good example of such reporting that comes from the Richmond Register. The author makes jury duty sound much less intimidating than people imagine it to be, but she devotes the most attention to telling prospective jurors that they are not exempt even if they think they are.

The last detail is my favorite, and I excerpt it here:

Your boss can go to jail if he threatens and/or fires you over having to serve jury duty.

TRUE …For example, a person who works at night cannot still be required to pull a night shift even while serving on a jury during the day…Under Kentucky law, if an employer threatens employees with termination or actually fires them because they are absent for jury duty, the workers can file a civil lawsuit for lost wages against the employer…Also, if an employee is fired for serving on a jury, the employer can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $250 (up to $5,000 for corporations) and/or a jail sentence not exceeding 90 days.

Posted in Summoning juries, Verdicts juries reach, Voir dire and jury selection | Leave a comment

A global jury?

Penn State University has started a program that looks at human rights cases called “The World on Trial.” The neat twist in the show is that “juries throughout the world” review the case, as presented on the show, then “reach a verdict on whether states are conforming to International treaties.”

In 2010, colleagues and I pitched a more institutionalized version of this idea by suggesting that juries could be implemented in the World Court. The article appeared in a symposium on “global democracy” in an issue of Ethics & International Affairs.

Whether on television or in actual practice, the question remains how well people of different cultures could understand and apply a single set of international laws. If they can’t, it’s either a failure of global civic education, for which there is almost no infrastructure, or a deficiency in the laws themselves, if they fail to speak to the moral sensibilities of diverse cultures.

In any case, the pilot episode of “World on Trial” is on YouTube for you to view.

Posted in Deliberation on juries, Juries around the world, Public/media views of juries | Leave a comment

Will the Zimmerman verdict inspire prospective jurors?

A USA Today article takes up that question today. One excerpt:

“When we are called (for jury duty), we must answer,” Malia Cohen, who represents southeast San Francisco on the Board of Supervisors, said during a rally outside San Francisco City Hall on Tuesday evening.

The fun fact here is that, well, yes, one must answer the summons. By law. That a member of the Board of Supervisors feels inspired to serve is good, but the legal obligation merits note.

A reporter for a California paper called me yesterday and noted that fewer than 50% of the people called in his county were answering their summons. To him, that sounded low. From what I have read, it’s not a bad yield to get 40% of your summoned jurors to respond. If the Zimmerman verdict boosts that figure, all the better for the representativeness of the jury pool. Given that jury service inspires greater civic participation afterward, that boost in response may yield a civic bump, as well.

Posted in Public/media views of juries, Social/political impact of juries, Summoning juries | 1 Comment

Discussing the jury in America with Albert Dzur and John Gastil

JoTempshua Miller of Morgan State University recently recorded a discussion he orchestrated via GoogleHangout with political scientist Albert Dzur and me (John Gastil).

The interview-like-thing runs about 23 minutes and gives you some insight into what Albert and I have been studying, vis a vis juries. Tune in for our thoughts on the decline of juries, the structure of American jurisprudence, and the civic role of the jury. My favorite part is where Albert shows I’ve strayed (usefully) away from Tocqueville’s conception of the jury.

The interview, edited by Josh, is available online at YouTube.

 

 

Posted in Conducting trials, Deliberation on juries, Social/political impact of juries, Verdicts juries reach, Voir dire and jury selection | 1 Comment