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November 2011

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Exit Surveys Improve Juror Satisfaction

Exit Surveys Improve Juror Satisfaction

Many district courts use jury exit surveys as a simple and direct way for jurors to comment on their experience. The responses allow courts to tailor their jury plan to suit their jury pool, but the surveys are hardly one- size-fits-all.

In most cases, jurors are given the 1- or 2-page questionnaire when their service ends, and are asked to mail it back to the judge or the clerk’s office. Just who receives the survey and what questions are posed varies from court to court.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, for example, surveys three separate groups of persons called for jury service: 1) jurors who did not participate in the selection process; 2) jurors who were not selected for service; and 3) jurors who completed jury selection, were chosen to serve on a jury, deliberated, and returned a verdict.

The court uses the data from the different groups to spot improvements that can be made in specific areas of the process, according to Coley Lewis, the district’s policy and research analyst. For example, a juror in group 3 will have more to say about courtroom procedures than a juror in group 1, who may focus instead on parking and directions to the courthouse.

“They have a job to do here just like we do, and we want the experience to be pleasant so they can focus in the courtroom,” Lewis said.

Other courts, like the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, only survey jurors who have returned a verdict. Kris Porter, the District’s jury administrator, said that this information is particularly helpful because jurors have developed a relationship with the court staff by the end of a trial.

The amount of juror traffic through a courthouse plays a role in the types of questions asked as well. The U.S. District Court for the District of Maine hands out a survey that asks jurors to critique the attorneys and the judge, as well as jury instructions.

"They have a job to do here just like we do, and we want the experience to be pleasant so they can focus in the courtroom," Lewis said.

—Coley Lewis

“It’s really one of the few ways that attorneys can receive feedback. It helps the attorneys and the court, but it also helps future jurors,” said Devon Richards, jury administrator for the district.

The U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota used jury surveys for several years, according to Candace Schafer, its jury administrator. The surveys were helpful, and the court found that nearly all of the persons who had been selected as trial jurors found the experience to be pleasant, interesting, and rewarding.

The presiding judge in the western division of the district meets with all of the trial jurors after a verdict is reached, and solicits their opinions on their experiences as jurors. The court has found that the information obtained through this process has been extremely helpful and is of valuable assistance.

Almost all of the surveys share some characteristics. Each features a section where jurors can numerically rate the different aspects of jury service. A comment section often provides the most valuable information. The surveys also collect data about age and gender, so that a court can compare different sectors of its jury pool.

Often, the information is not only collected and analyzed, but also publicly reported. Lewis meets with the Eastern District of Missouri’s clerk of court, chief deputy clerk, and jury unit to analyze the data before publishing it in an annual report. This process is as much for the court as it is for the public.

“We’re very transparent when it comes to people’s opinions about jury service,” Lewis said. “If there are areas we feel that we can change, we definitely do so because it’s important that we constantly evaluate our performance. Those who answer the call to jury service are sacrificing their time, and we try to reward that.”