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May 2011

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

 

Best Use of Jurors Improves Jury Experience


Not only is May the month Law Day is observed, it also is Juror Appreciation Month—presenting an opportunity to take a look at how courts manage what Justice John Marshall Harlan called “one of the principal excellencies of our Constitution,” the jury system.

Last year, 59,405 American citizens served on federal petit juries, with a national average of 39 percent of jurors not selected, serving, or challenged on the first day of service. This is down from 40 percent in 2009, and represents a savings of more than $224,000 in juror costs.

The Judiciary continually looks for ways to improve jury service and maximize the use of potential jurors who are called for duty.

In all, 56 of the 94 federal court districts improved their percentages of jurors not selected, serving, or challenged in 2010. Nine districts improved by 10 percent or more. They are the District of Alaska, the Northern and Southern Districts of Alabama, the Southern District of Georgia, the Western District of Kentucky, the Western District of North Carolina, the Western District of Oklahoma, the Eastern District of Wisconsin, and the District of Wyoming.

The Judiciary continually looks for ways to improve jury service and maximize the use of potential jurors who are called for duty— cutting costs and enhancing a juror’s court experience. How citizens who are called for jury service view that encounter depends on how effectively courts manage their experience before, during, and after service.

Most Jurors Like the Experience

With this in mind, Judge Julie A. Robinson, chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management, asked the Federal Judicial Center (FJC) to convene a series of jury workshops for the federal trial courts. The number of workshops will depend on funding.

“High non-utilization rates of jurors raise concerns regarding the unnecessary inconvenience to citizens and costs to the Judiciary,” Robinson said. “The Committee thought it would be very helpful, especially to large courts, to participate in an FJC juror utilization workshop to educate the courts on ways to reduce this rate and to provide courts an opportunity to share their experiences in the most efficient ways to obtain an adequate jury pool.”

In March, 11 district courts that use large jury pools sent teams to a workshop. Participating were the Central, Eastern, Northern and Southern Districts of California, the District of Columbia, the Eastern District of Louisiana, the Eastern District of Michigan, the Southern District of New York, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and the Northern and Western Districts of Texas.

... participants examined the challenges and opportunities that courts face when dealing with juries in the twentyfirst century, including high profile terrorism trials, new technology that helps jurors view evidence and exhibits in a trial, the pitfalls and temptations of social media for jurors...

During the day and a half workshop, participants examined the challenges and opportunities that courts face when dealing with juries in the twenty-first century, including high-profile terrorism trials, new technology that helps jurors view evidence and exhibits in a trial, the pitfalls and temptations of social media for jurors, and post-trial procedures and counseling options available to help jurors after difficult trials.

A primary focus of the workshop was for courts to develop an action plan to take back home to address local challenges, a long list that included: setting default panel sizes to a lower number of jurors; testing lower panel sizes; reporting juror utilization statistics within the district; creating an ad hoc jury committee; developing or revising a juror utilization plan; developing an orientation program on juror utilization for new judges; surveying jurors on their experiences; reducing the length of service; making available post-trial counseling information when necessary; and conducting public outreach to increase summons response and increase diversity of pools.

“Jury service is one of the most important civic duties an American citizen can perform,” said Robinson. “We can show our appreciation for their deliberations by making good use of their time and service.”