Mike Kueber's Blog

July 29, 2010

A jury of one’s peers and jury duty

Trial by jury is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed to all Americans by two amendments to the U.S. Constitution – the 6th Amendment concerns criminal prosecutions and the 7th Amendment concerns civil suits.  Although there is nothing in the Constitution about “a jury of one’s peers,” American courts have interpreted the right to a jury to mean that a jury must be selected from a diverse pool of citizens who live in the jurisdiction.  For reasons best understood by the U.S. Supreme Court, the 6th Amendment (criminal prosecutions) applies to both state and federal courts, while the 7th Amendment (civil suits) applies to only federal courts.  This means the states have great latitude in deciding the composition of juries for civil suits.

Historically, most courts drew their jury pools from their lists of registered voters, but in recent years, there has been a trend to expand the pool to include people with a driver’s license.  Texas made this change in 1993, at which time it required counties to draw their jury pools from a combined list of registered voters and licensed drivers in the county.  The reaction to this change was mixed – some preferred the broadened list because they felt it produced a “jury of one’s peers”; whereas others opposed the broadened list because it brought in potential jurors who didn’t even have enough civic responsibility to register to vote.

I think the danger of a broadened jury pool is being exposed by the crazy verdicts that are becoming commonplace.  By including in the jury pool non-voters who tend to be disgruntled and disillusioned, we are empowering people who lack the temperament and judgment to act wisely, responsibly, and judiciously.  In fact, I have known people who would refrain from registering to vote solely so they could avoid jury duty.  Why do we want them on a jury, deciding life & death or multi-million dollar lawsuits? 

I propose that the American system of justice would improve if we returned to drawing the jury pool from a list of registered voters.  Sure, it would be desirable to change the thinking of non-voters, but that has nothing to do with requiring non-voters to be in the jury pool.  Change their thinking first; then place them in a jury pool.