We, the Jury, Find the . . .

  • Share
  • Read Later

(5 of 12)

not doing anything." Instead of having a number of jurors yawning in the courthouse all week, Smith's committee reasoned, why not keep prospective jurors on call to serve for just one day or one trial? Adopted in 1972, the one-day, one-trial system worked so well that other court systems began copying it.

At Wayne County's circuit court in Detroit, which adopted the system in 1975, it works this way: every two weeks the courthouse computers spew forth a random sample of more than 1,000 names and addresses from a jury pool of 30,000 citizens. Occupational exemptions have been abolished, though brief deferrals are usually granted by telephone. The rate of excuses has been cut from 33% to .09%. Thereafter, an average of 100 prospective jurors are summoned each day, but only about 75 are asked to come to court. The others telephone to hear a prerecorded message that tells them if they are needed. Those who are summoned appear at 8:30 a.m. on their first day for a half-hour orientation on their duties. They will serve only one day, unless they actually get on a jury, and then they serve on only one case (the average is four days). After that they are free for twelve months.

In various forms, the one-day, one-trial system has slowly spread to about 50 of the nation's 3,000 court systems, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Cambridge, Mass., and parts of Chicago. The system generally provides one immediate benefit: the saving of previously wasted jurors' fees. Says David Kasunic, the Wayne State business law professor who guided the Detroit area through the change: "It's a panacea without a pitfall."

If the jury is fundamental to the U.S. system of justice, then it is clearly fundamental that the selection of jurors must also be just. Though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled as long ago as 1880 that the newly emancipated blacks could not be excluded outright from jury service, nearly a century of case-by-case adjudication has been necessary to develop and enforce the court's principle that all juries must be drawn from "a fair cross section of the community." And how is such a cross section to be determined? The traditional method was that "key men" in the community—bankers and merchants, for the most part—drew up lists of responsible citizens who would serve. Not until this past winter was the last such key-man system discarded, in New Hampshire, after a conviction based on it was overturned.

In 1968 Congress passed the Jury Selection and Service Act, which required that federal courts cull jurors from the list of registered voters, but the states took their time in following suit. Although the Supreme Court has outlawed "systematic exclusion" of women and racial minorities from prospective jury lists, the court has consistently refused to set any specific quotas for these or any other groups on the juries actually selected.

But the voting lists do not provide a completely accurate cross section of a community. Overall, the registered voters represent only 67% of the adult population, and even after the reforms of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, they are still disproportionately the white, the middle class and the middleaged. In North Carolina's Cumberland County, a detailed study four years ago showed that the jury list based on both voters and taxpayers was only 17%

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10
  11. 11
  12. 12