No-Show Jurors

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.

Thanks to Carolyn Elefant and’s Legal Blog Watch for reporting today on the Monitor story.

One Reply to “No-Show Jurors”

  1. alvs27

    Last semester I studied abroad in London and I was fortunate enough to score an amazing internship in one of the top criminal legal aid solicitors firms in London. There I got to work as an outdoor clerk, going to court just about everyday, observing and taking notes on literally EVERYTHING that was said during the proceedings. Among other things, one of the best parts of my job was the fact that I got to pick the brains of all the barristers who I went to court with (while we sat around-usually for hours-waiting for the court space to open up).

    Anyway, I bring this up because of your blog entry “no show jurors.” I remember a specific conversation I had with one of the barristers regarding juries. It was the first day of a projected 2 week long trial and we got to talking outside of the courtroom. He was telling me all about how England is working toward removing juries all together, to be replaced by a volunteer panel of 3 lay judges. When he first started to tell me about this, I was absolutely appalled. I thought to myself “what is the world coming to,” figuring that the courts would definitely be prejudiced against the criminal. I am not sure why I initially thought that the judges would be prejudiced against the accused, but most importantly, I thought that it was horrible that the right to trial by jury would be taken away from citizens. I always believed that this was the fairest way to evaluate evidence. After all, this is what I learned in EVERY American history class I had ever taken since the 3rd grade, right? It was a privilege to serve jury duty!

    Well, lets just say that the barrister did not need to convince me–all he said was “we will talk after this trial.” I sat in that courtroom for 2 weeks straight observing everything, but paying special attention to the jury. I could not believe what I saw. People were day dreaming, shivering from the cold, and on various occasions I even saw people fall asleep! What’s up with that? Further, some of the lawyers during the trial did such a horrible job explaining complicated parts of the case that I even got confused–and I had read all of the documents both sides provided before I even walked into the courtroom. At the end, the judge (jerk) summed up the case and was clearly biased towards the plaintiff. He conveniently left out points here and there, which was frustrating to listen to. So, the combination of this general apathetic view towards jury service, the possibility that a juror does not understand the information presented (and has no way of seeking clarity until the judge sums up), and the ability of the judge to sway the jury with his final remarks, pretty much convinced me that a trial by jury was not as fair as I had originally thought.

    Although I would like to say that I would be a different kind of juror than the ones that I saw first hand, I am not entirely sure I would be. I loved listening to and watching the cases for my job because I had a personal attachment (however minuscule it may had been) to the client and the overall outcome of the case. Even someone like me, who is really interested in the legal system, cannot say without reservation that my “head would be in it” for the whole duration of a trial. I mean, I was not all together disappointed when I was summed to be an on call juror this summer in NY and I never had to go in.

    Since I have had no experience in the US, I don’t really think that I can compare the two institutions side by side, but I just thought you might be interested in what your blog sparked in my brain.

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