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2014 Shows Better Use of Jurors in Federal Courts

The national average of jurors in federal district courts who were not selected, serving or challenged (NSSC) on the first day of jury service fell to 36.8 percent in 2014, compared to 37.7 percent in 2013.  If you’re a potential juror, that’s very good news. It means 3,046 potential jurors were not called to the courthouse unnecessarily.

Last year, 208,874 potential jurors appeared at federal courts prepared to serve on petit juries. Because jurors are paid $40 a day for attendance, along with other reimbursements such as mileage — even if not selected to serve on a jury — the 2014 percentage decline in NSSC translates to a savings of approximately $261,956 for the Judiciary.

Jurors NSSC means wasted juror time and court money, so districts work hard to improve their juror utilization. Fifty of 94 district courts improved their percentage of jurors NSSC last year — with 13 districts improving their percentage by 10 or more points.

High profile trials, death penalty cases, multi-defendant criminal cases, continuances due to unforeseen circumstances, late settlements, and the need in “mega cases” to bring in jurors to complete prescreening questionnaires can play havoc with a court’s percentage of jurors NSSC.

The District Court for the District of Columbia is no stranger to high profile cases, yet in 2014, its percentage of jurors NSSC dropped by 10 points.

“We piloted a program that would bring in just 18-20 jurors for civil cases, and 40-55, for criminal, depending on the case,” said Regina Larry, the district’s jury administrator. “We had several judges volunteer to pilot the program. It worked and now it’s part of the norm.”  

Because fewer jurors are requested by the judges, more are being utilized. “In addition, where jurors might be brought in solely for a high-profile case,” Larry said, “now judges are electing to use jurors who already are on a two-week call.”

“Our judges really take an interest in their jurors,” said D.C. District Clerk of Court Angela Caesar. “They’ll come into the jury lounge and let the jurors know, this is what’s happening, this is why we didn’t see you today, but your presence meant something. I think our judges do a really good job of making sure our jurors know they serve a purpose.”

In 2014 the Eastern District of Louisiana also reduced their NSSC percentage by more than 10 points.

Claire Trimble, the district’s jury administrator, credits better information going out to potential jurors with improving juror response. The court sends jurors phone reminders on Saturday that they’re expected for jury duty on Monday.

“It’s just enough of a reminder that we did start seeing more people showing up at the right time. Or calling in to ask why they received the message, because they never received the juror summons.”  Also, jurors calling the court to find out if they need to report for jury duty receive very specific information — time, place, date — rather than a generic ‘your time has not changed.’

“Obviously, there are courts that are way ahead of us, who have moved to a more online basis,” said Trimble. “We’re not there yet, but we’re using the technology we do have to the best of our ability.”

Decreasing the number of prospective jurors who are NSSC is a Judiciary-wide goal. The Federal Judicial Center conducts regular Juror Utilization and Jury Management Workshops, the most recent in March 2015, to help courts better use jurors. Teams of four — typically a judge, clerk of court, jury administrator, and courtroom deputy — from 12-15 districts attend each workshop.

Along with better juror utilization, there’s another universal goal.

“We really like it when jurors leave and say, ‘Wow, that was interesting. I felt I was an important part of the process,” said Trimble. “If your jurors come in and they sit in a room and drink lukewarm coffee for two hours and then are told to go home, they don’t feel like that. We’ll do everything in our power to get you here and have a good experience.”

Related Topics: District Courts, Jury Service