Nationally, 20% of those summoned for jury duty fail to show. In Miami the no-show rate is “as high as 90%.” Ninety percent! According to US court challenge: How to corral 12 not-so-angry jurors in today’s Christian Science Monitor, the federal judicial groups have investigate the high rate of no-show jurors. The cause? The Monitor reports that “[o]utdated juror lists, rundown jury rooms that feel like jails, and growing time pressures on Americans are mostly to blame.” The high rate of juror deliquency results in unrepresentative juries which in turn can lead to skewed verdicts. The Monitor quotes jury expert Scott Sundby: “Research shows that death-sentence convictions drop by 30 percent in black-on-white murder cases when at least one juror is a member of the minority group.”
One solution proposed is the one day/one trial system which Massachusetts (and about 1/3 of the courts in this country) use. (I discussed the Massachusetts one day/one trial system in a comment to A Trial by Jury.) Another is more rigorous enforcement of the penalties for skipping jury duty. The article reports a combination of education about the jury system and pursuit of delinquent jurors enabled Massachusetts to cut the no-show rate from 14% in 1996 to 6% today.
I understand why people regard jury duty as an imposition. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it. I’ve learned in the classroom that many people have gross misconceptions about the court system. Students in my Introduction to Law course must spend at least two hours observing a trial court and write a short paper about the experience. Students may drag their feet about going but most find it a revelatory experience. Some go back to court to follow a trial. Students report every semester that judges took the time to answer their questions, that lawyers patiently sat with them to explain what happened in the court room, that court officers served as tour guides/legal encyclopedias/courtroom commentators/big brothers. Students are stunned to see a criminal defendant of their age sent to prison for a long stretch. I know that many students will remember visiting the court long after they’ve forgotten the prima facie case of negligence or the duty of care owed by a gratuitous bailee.