I examine how peremptory challenges, which are vetoes that attorneys may use on prospective jurors, affect jury composition. The purpose of peremptory challenges is to eliminate biased jurors, however I show that under the two most common rules used in the United States peremptory challenges actually increase the probability of juries composed entirely of members on one extreme or another of some ideological spectrum. I then show that it is not possible to design a peremptory challenge procedure which unambiguously makes such juries less likely. I show that if unanimity is required for conviction, the distribution of juror types is symmetric about some mean type, and each attorney has the same number of challenges, then challenges benefit the prosecution.
This week the MA Supreme Judicial Court determined that the names of jurors must be made public at the completion of trial. Specifically, the high court ruled in Commonwealth v. Fujita that "a list of the names of jurors empaneled in any criminal case be included in the court file of the case, no later than at the completion of the trial."
In Fujita, a teenager was convicted of murdering his girlfriend. The press wanted the names of the jurors in the case so that they could talk to them about the trial. The court said no and instead informed the press that the judge would write the jurors and enquire if they were interested in being contacted by the media. Only two jurors said "yes."
In overruling the trial judge, the state high court found that "[o]nly on a judicial finding of good cause, which may include a risk of harm to the jurors or the integrity of their service, may such a list be withheld." Among other things, this case is a good read because it talks about the importance of having an open and transparent jury system. The opinion also mentions the prosecution of the British soldiers for the Boston Massacre and how their trial was "open to the public, and the identities of the jurors who acquitted the soldiers were known to the community."
I thought the article below would serve as a good contrast to Sunday's post on the NJ bill that allows citizens to volunteer for jury service. Apparently, the sheriff in Eau Claire, WI has resorted to rounding up people on the street to ensure that enough jurors were available to hear a case. If local citizens answered "yes" to the following questions they were directed to report to the local courthouse or taken their personally by the sheriff.
1. Are you an Eau Claire County resident? 2. Are you at least 18 years of age? 3. Do you have any history of a felony conviction?
It should come as no surprise that it will take some time to find 24 (12 alternatives the most I have ever seen) impartial jurors for the James Holmes death penalty trial. The article below highlights the myriad of excuses that prospective jurors will use to avoid serving on this trial. Full disclosure, I am quoted in the article.
Last year, New Jersey Assemblyman Craig J. Coughlin introduced legislation (A2949) to allow New Jersey residents to volunteer for jury service. Here is a nice summary of the bill.
Under the bill, every county clerk shall annually maintain a list which shall consist of the names of county residents who opt to be listed as persons volunteering to serve as grand or petit jurors for the county for a period of one year from the date of registration. The list shall be compiled from data submitted by any person seeking to volunteer as a prospective juror, in any form deemed appropriate by the county clerk, which can include paper or electronic submission. The data submitted shall indicate the name and address of the prospective volunteer juror, the date the year-long commitment shall begin, any restriction as to whether the person is volunteering for grand or petit juror service and shall be signed by the prospective volunteer juror. This list shall be separate from any other list used for the preparation of the juror source list for the county, and shall be submitted to the Assignment Judge of the county at the same time the county board of elections shall annually submit the list of registered voters of the county to the Assignment Judge.
The trial judge in the Tsarnaev death penalty case has ordered the defense's third change of venue motion sealed (to read about the earlier change of venue motions go here). The judge issued this order to protect the privacy of the jurors. Apparently, this last change of venue motion included quotes from "confidential juror questionnaires" and "attribut[ed] the quotes to specific prospective jurors who are identified by juror number, including jurors who have not yet been interviewed in the course of public voir dire proceedings."
Apparently, a few states offer jurors additional compensation in order to prevent jury duty from becoming a financial hardship. For example, in Colorado, jurors can claim financial hardship and seek additional compensation from the court. The Colorado law (13-71-125) on this issue reads as follows.
The compensation and reimbursement policy of this article shall be to prevent, insofar as possible, financial hardship for any juror because of the performance of juror service. Where financial hardship exists, the court shall attempt to place the juror in the same financial position as such juror would have been were it not for the performance of juror service.
This topic has garnered increased attention in light of the ongoing death penalty case of James Holmes which is expected to last for several months. To read more about hardship pay for jurors go here.
Also, the trial judge in this case has ruled that the public may watch the voir dire process but they are not entitled to hear the verbal responses from the jurors. Previously, the defendant had requested that juror questioning occur beyond the earshot of the media and those sitting in the gallery of the courtroom.