Jul 5, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Courts may see spike in people wanting to serve on juries

Illustration collage of a jury box
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Fewer Americans are trying to get out of jury duty, and legal experts say this may reflect people's growing desire to combat systemic racism.

Driving the news: Jury consultant Jason Bloom tells Axios that, historically, as many as one in four U.S. adults who are called for jury duty seek to be excused, citing hardships. But now, that number has shrunk to around only 5%-10%, he says.

Why it matters: There's a clear upside to enhanced civic engagement, but former prosecutors warn that it's as essential as ever to make sure that potential jurors are fair and don't come into cases with agendas.

The big picture: The projected jump in participation follows the killing of George Floyd; the trial, conviction and 22.5-year sentence of former police officer Derek Chauvin; and record voter turnout in 2020.

  • During Chauvin jury selections earlier this year, a surprising number of Hennepin County residents in Minnesota were OK with serving, and a few were been flat out excited, as Nick Halter, the author of Axios Twin Cities, reports.
  • One prospective juror said she voted in the November election because she wanted to become eligible for jury duty and called the process "fascinating." Another potential juror even said he was willing to delay his wedding to serve on the jury.

Courts are also facing case backlogs as they reopen following pandemic shutdowns.

What they're saying: “There are many ways to impact our communities," District of Columbia Attorney General and National Association of Attorneys General president Karl Racine tells Axios. "A critical piece of civic engagement is serving on a jury and I hope this means more people will answer that call to service."

  • Katrina Dewey, the founder of the legal publication Lawdragon, said some people have concluded that if they want more racial justice, jury service may be one of the most profound and impactful ways to achieve that: "I do think that we are entering an era of maybe participatory populism."
  • "A lot more people want to participate in their community and in society," Bloom said. "And there's not much you can do about that, besides vote, or sit on a jury."

Yes, but: "You want people there who really believe in equal justice under the law," David Iglesias, a Wheaton College law professor and a former U.S. attorney, tells Axios. "You want people who try to be as race-neutral as possible."

  • "I want jurors to look at the evidence in individual cases and not for a cause," said Susana Martinez, the former New Mexico governor and a former prosecutor. "Can you be unbiased? That's what I want to know."

What we're watching: The National District Attorneys Association and the Vera Causa Group in May announced a partnership to support efforts of prosecutors to make the U.S. criminal justice system more racially equitable.

  • The groups are hosting virtual trainings on racial equity and anti-bias programs in the criminal justice system.
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