Is There a Perception Problem with the American Jury System?
If you search for “jury duty” on social media, you’re likely to find more than a few posts of people whining about it. The litany goes like this: it’s boring, the pay is terrible, the room smells like feet and old cheese – it never ends.
While most folks aren’t too keen on the disruption to their daily routine, the vast majority of jurors are committed to fulfilling their duty to serve, and are interested in learning more about the judicial process.
The Pew Research Center conducted a study in April and asked respondents how they felt about jury duty.
A vast majority — 67% — chose the most civic-minded response: “Serving on a jury is part of what it means to be a good citizen.” Clearly, this bodes well for those of us who value the jury system and want to preserve it.
But if the majority of Americans are supportive of jury duty, why do courts across the country have such a difficult time getting folks to actually show up?
Aside from the obvious reasons such as inaccurate address information, scheduling conflicts, and ridiculously low juror pay, the study does suggest some concerning trends.
Here are a few highlights.
- Only half of surveyed Millennials viewed jury service as a sign of good citizenship compared to 70% of all other age groups. While this Tweet is shared as comic relief, the reality is almost one-third of Millennials are still living in their parents’ homes, and many are still finding their way in the world of work. Millennials are on target to be the largest generation in the prospective jury pool by 2020. So the group with the least propensity to view jury service as an important part of being a good citizen is poised to make up the biggest piece of our jury pool.
- While 71% of surveyed Caucasians had a positive perception, this belief was shared by only 61% of Hispanics and 58% of African Americans. More than half, but certainly not what we jury advocates would like to see. Population projections suggest that the racial and ethnic makeup of the country is growing increasingly more diverse, and by 2045, less than 50% of Americans will be Caucasian. We’ve got some work to do on improving the public’s perception of jury service.
- 59% of Americans with a high school diploma (or less) viewed jury duty favorably, as compared to 72% for those with post-secondary education.
Couple these trends with the fact that the percentage of criminal and civil cases actually making it to a jury are around 4% and less than 1%, respectively, and one has to wonder: Is the American jury on the path to extinction? With plea bargains, summary judgment, required arbitrations, and the high cost of litigation, maybe.
So what’s the solution?
Educating the public about the importance of juries, the Constitutional and historical basis for juries, and improving the jury experience for everyone involved will certainly help. Fortunately, efforts are being made around the country to do just that.
The New York University School of Law recently launched an incredible program called the Civil Jury Project (whose director is Texas’s own Steven Susman). Its mission is to preserve the 7th Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees citizens the right to a jury trial in common-law civil matters. It focuses on three key areas:
- Evaluating the current role of the American jury, reasons for its decline, and what consequence such a decline has on the judicial system.
- Providing educational programs and publicity for jury-related studies and policy proposals.
- Evaluating reasonable and practical ways to improve the efficiency and fairness of the right to trial by jury.
It’s clear there’s a public perception problem related to jury service and trial by jury, so let’s do our part by promoting pro-jury sentiment, educating the public about the importance of juries, and — on some level — becoming part of the solution.
Trial by jury is a foundation of our justice system. It warrants preservation. It may not be easy… but few things worth having are.
Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.
~ Vincent van Gogh