Academic journal article Defense Counsel Journal

"A Jury of Our Peers": Is That Right?

Academic journal article Defense Counsel Journal

"A Jury of Our Peers": Is That Right?

Article excerpt

The IADC A Jury of Our Peers Committee reports on projects around the United States to improve the workings of the civil jury system

I do not know whether the jury is useful to those who have lawsuits, but I am certain it is highly beneficial to those who judge them; and I look upon it as one of the most efficacious means for the education of the people which society can employ.

-ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE (1835)

JOHN STUART MILL observed that the jury system is at the very heart of democracy. Therefore, to preserve the very essence of democracy, its citizens must be willing to serve on juries.

For this reason, the A jury of Our Peers Committee was established in 1996 by then president of the International Association of Defense Counsel, George Gore. As an active trial lawyer, he was impelled by his observation that the triers of fact at most civil jury trials in the United States did not represent a true cross-section of the community.

President Gore's charge to the committee was "to survey and evaluate all federal and state jurisdictions to find out how they summon, select and empanel jurors" and to "recommend changes so that jurors who sit on the trial of a civil case truly represent a cross-section of the community and that those jurors who pass judgment on plaintiffs and defendants in civil actions will be drawn from juror pools that fairly represent all segments of the community." The project, one of the first issues tackled in Mr. Gore's presidency, underscores the IADC's recognition of the importance of the jury system to the American justice system.

With this in mind, the committee embarked on a mission to find ways to make the civil jury system more representative of all segments of society. It was a project intended to benefit society as a whole.

The issues faced by the committee were not new. For instance, one law review article as far back as 1930 decried the fact "most educated classes were exempt from jury duty."1 There have been a number of recent jury reform movements dating from the 1970s which have led to improvements in the administration of such essentially administered jury service systems and have opened jury service to more citizens.2

In 1994, Arizona and New York adopted major jury reforms. Arizona's project focused on the trial aspects of jury service, but it also implemented changes in public education about jury service and jury trials, improvement of juror source lists and requests for deferral and excusai from service.3 New York conducted a major overhaul of its jury reform system, implementing significant reform and source lists, terms of service, qualifications, exemptions, excusais, deferrals, as well as jury selection and service.4

The IADC committee conducted a survey of all U.S. jurisdictions and found that many citizens sought and received exemption from jury service. The committee also discovered that juror source lists often did not reflect entire populations eligible for service. In light of its findings the committee made recommendations for legislative and rule changes and proposed public education to enlighten the citizenry about the benefits of jury service. Indeed, the committee drafted its own model statute relating to selection of prospective jurors, which appears as Appendix A to this article. The survey of U.S. jurisdictions, originally conducted in 1997, has been updated as of September, 2003.

The IADC committee also has noted that other organizations, including the National Center for State Courts and the American Legislative Exchange Council, have evaluated jury eligibility and weighed in with their own recommendations for spreading jury service among the whole population.

This article evaluates the current state of affairs to open jury service to all citizens, and it consists of three sections:

Section I updates and comments on the state and federal tables regarding the analysis of the inclusion/exclusion of potential jurors in the jury pool of state and federal courts. …

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