As soon as I sat down to write this, I realized that I should have called the post “How to Get Out of Jury Duty” and gotten a lot more hits. Oh well – the current title will find the right people. People like me, who never get called for jury duty and wonder why.
I saw an article on FiveThirtyEight discussing that same issue. It first cites a small DRI survey noting that 27 percent of US adults had served on a jury at some point. That seems about right – maybe even a little high.
The article also discusses some of the basics – people picked for jury selection must be US citizens, must not be felons, and must have enough English proficiency to do the job. There’s more to it though.
In Illinois, the jury pool is picked from (a) registered voters, (b) drivers license holders, (c) disability identification card holders, and (d) applicants for unemployment. In Iowa, the jury pool is picked from (a) registered voters, (b) drivers license holders, and may include (c) “any other current comprehensive list… including lists of public utility customers”. Obviously this excludes a lot of people – those who don’t drive, haven’t registered to vote, and don’t have any utilities in their name. Quite frankly it excludes a lot of lower income people and people of color. The nature of the citizenship requirement also excludes a significant percentage of the Hispanic population – which often includes Resident Aliens who are not US Citizens.
Even if the system worked well, it could still miss some people. At this moment, my drivers license expired two days ago. It doesn’t list my current address. My voter registration is still at two houses ago – I always mean to get that changed, but I never do… there’s a chance I could have been called but fell through the cracks. I’m not alone.
Finally, one other aspect is the vanishing jury trial. For some reference, there were over 12,000 jury trials in federal courts in 1985. That number fell to just over 2,000 in 2010. State Courts are no different – Iowa, for example, had 1,426 jury trials in state court in 1995, but only 815 in 2014. There are many reasons for that, but the main point is that asking “Why haven’t I served on a jury” may be like asking “Why haven’t I seen a Black Rhino?” They’re both endangered – there just aren’t as many as there used to be.
(Howard Zimmerle is a lawyer practicing in Rock Island Illinois and Davenport Iowa. He can be reached at hzimmerle [at] mjwlaw.com or at 309-794-1660).