Over the past half-century, courts have implemented a host of reforms to the administrative processes involved in qualifying and summoning prospective jurors for jury service. These reforms have largely focused on improving the demographic representation of the jury pool and alleviating the burden of jury service on citizens. This entry describes the legal and theoretical basis for administrative reforms and the specific efforts that courts have made to ensure that the jury pool is broadly inclusive of the entire population and reflects a fair cross-section of the community.
Legal and Theoretical Basis for Administrative Reforms
The U.S. Supreme Court first ruled that African Americans could not be systematically excluded from the jury pool on the basis of race in 1880, but widespread efforts to ensure a demographically representative jury pool began in earnest only with the civil rights and women’s rights movements during the mid-20th century. The legal principle requiring a racially and ethnically diverse jury pool derives mainly from the Sixth Amendment requirement that criminal defendants be tried by “a fair and impartial jury,” which the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted as a jury selected from “a fair cross-section of the community.”
The principle is premised on the belief that a jury that reflects a broad spectrum of life experiences and viewpoints is less likely to succumb to unchallenged assumptions or biases during deliberations. This understanding is supported by a substantial body of empirical research concerning the implications of the story model of juror decision making, which posits that jurors filter trial evidence as it is presented through a preexisting framework of life experiences, opinions, and attitudes (e.g., how the world works, how people interact, etc.), which in turn affects the inferences that each juror takes away from that evidence. During deliberations, jurors have the opportunity to present competing interpretations of evidence and discuss their credibility in the context of the entire case and come to a consensus about the facts and the appropriate application of law to those facts in their verdicts. Due to the widespread public acceptance of this premise, courts have also justified administrative reforms to the jury system to bolster public perceptions of the fairness and legitimacy of jury verdicts produced by diverse and representative juries.
A secondary principle—tangentially related to the first—is that jury service is a civic obligation that all citizens must be prepared to undertake if the American justice system is to continue to uphold its democratic ideals. This principle derives less from specific constitutional requirements and more from the belief that a well-functioning democracy engages citizens across every dimension of cultural identity, socioeconomic status, and political orientation in a process of shared decision making. Thus, no segment of society should be considered too marginal or too elite to be spared from the basic task of jury service.
A number of institutional and social factors affect citizens’ ability and willingness to serve, and they often have a disproportionate effect on minority populations. For example, voter registration lists, the most popular source list for compiling the master jury list, have long been criticized for overrepresenting populations that are older, more affluent, and highly educated and being less representative of minorities. The high mobility rates of youth and lower-income individuals result in substantial numbers of jury summonses—on average, 15% nationally—being returned as undeliverable by the U.S. Postal Service. Some qualification criteria, such as citizenship and English language fluency, disproportionately exclude Hispanic, Asian, and other immigrant populations. Occupational exemptions for various types of professionals place a disproportionate burden of jury service on those who do not qualify for an exemption. The length of time that citizens are required to serve can last up to 6 months or more in some jurisdictions, and juror fees rarely cover more than daily travel and out-of-pocket expenses. Consequently, an average of 9% of prospective jurors are excused for hardship. Another 9% of individuals— again disproportionately lower income and less educated—fail to respond to their jury summonses.
To address these myriad issues, state and federal courts have gradually implemented various improvements in jury administration that are designed to expand the jury pool to encompass all jury-eligible citizens, equalize the burden of jury service across the entire population, and make it possible for all jury-eligible individuals to serve if summonsed. For example, half of all state courts now use both registered voters and licensed drivers lists to compile the master jury list, and 20% of courts use three or more source lists. Each new source list adds unique names that were not found on the previous source lists, thus expanding the pool of prospective jurors. Many courts also employ sophisticated mailing list management tools, such as those developed by mail order retailers, to verify and update addresses and reduce the proportion of undeliverable summonses. Several jurisdictions have eliminated occupational exemptions; 12 states and the District of Columbia provide exemptions only for previous jury service.
To reduce the burden of jury service on individuals, nearly one in four courts (23%), whose collective jurisdiction encompasses more than half the U.S. population, now employs a “one day/one trial” term of service. That is, if a person reports for jury service and is impaneled as a trial juror, he or she serves until the completion of that trial and then is released for some statutorily defined period of time. If the juror is not impaneled as a trial juror by the end of the day, he or she again is released from jury service for the statutorily defined period of time. Many courts have also enacted deferral policies that permit citizens to select a new reporting date if the original summons date conflicts with a prior obligation. From a purely logistical standpoint, a shorter term of service in which jurors are used and released, rather than reused in subsequent jury trials, requires courts to summon more citizens for jury service to ensure a sufficient number of prospective jurors to try cases. Thus, this arrangement simultaneously relieves the burden of jury service on individual jurors and distributes the burden more equitably among the jury-eligible population of the community.
Other jurisdictions have increased juror fees to more adequately reimburse jurors’ out-of-pocket expenses. Because the fiscal implications of these changes on state and local governments can be quite substantial, many jurisdictions are moving away from a flat daily payment for jury service and toward a graduated payment system in which jurors receive a reduced fee, or no fee, on the first day of jury service and then an increased fee on subsequent days. This type of payment arrangement works well in jurisdictions with one day/one trial terms. It minimizes the cost of jury service incurred by courts on the first day of service, when large numbers of jurors report for jury selection, but provides somewhat better compensation to those citizens who serve for longer periods of time as sworn trial jurors. Some states have also coupled improved juror compensation systems with legislation mandating that employers compensate employees while on jury service for a given period of time (usually 3-10 days), thus minimizing the financial hardship jurors might experience due to lost income. Finally, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma have enacted legislation authorizing a “Lengthy Trial Fund” to reimburse jurors who are impaneled on longer trials (e.g., 10 days or more) for lost income up to a statutorily defined maximum ($100 to $300 per day).
Along with efforts to reduce the burden of jury service, many courts have stepped up enforcement proceedings on citizens who fail to respond to the jury summons. Nearly two thirds of courts report some form of follow-up on nonresponders, most often in the form of a follow-up letter or second summons that informs jurors that they have failed to report for jury service and assigns them a new reporting date. Courts that have formally evaluated this approach find that the response rate to a second summons ranges from 35% to 50% and that individuals responding to a second summons qualify for jury service in roughly the same proportion as those responding to the first summons. If a juror fails to appear a second time, sanctions can increase in severity from civil contempt proceedings and fines to arrest and incarceration. Practically, serious juror scofflaws constitute a relatively small proportion of the population in most communities. Thus, these more aggressive enforcement measures often are conducted sporadically, but with a great deal of publicity, as a deterrent to future jurors who might ignore the summons.
The result of these efforts has been a remarkable improvement in the diversity of jury pools over the past three decades. Although some disparity in racial and ethnic representation still occurs in most communities, typically the difference between the proportion of a given minority in the community and the proportion of that minority in the jury pool ranges from 2 to 4 percentage points. These changes, especially expanding the inclusiveness of the master jury list and reducing the term of service, have also dramatically increased the proportion of the American population that has experienced jury service—from 6% in 1977 to 29% in 2004. It may be this direct and personal experience with jury service that has continued to bolster popular support for the institution even in light of the precipitous decline in the proportion of cases tried by jury over the past 30 years.
- American Bar Association. (2005). Principles for juries and jury trials. Chicago: American Bar Association.
- Hannaford-Agor, P. L., Waters, N. L., Mize, G. E., & Wait, M. (2007). The state-of-the-states survey of jury improvement efforts: A compendium report. Williamsburg, VA: National Center for State Courts.
- Hastie, R., Penrod, S. D., & Pennington, N. (1983). Inside the jury. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Munsterman, G. T., Hannaford-Agor, P. L., & Whitehead, G. M. (Eds.). (2006). Jury trial innovations. Williamsburg, VA: National Center for State Courts.