Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin

September, 2004

ABA Jury Poll Reveals Most Americans Support Jury Duty
By Janet Stidman Eveleth

When citizens are summoned for jury duty in this country, many do not show up. Yet a new American Bar Association (ABA) poll indicates most Americans are generally supportive of jury service and “have a profound belief and trust in the jury system.” While these findings are refreshing and reflect the public’s confidence in our justice system, they contradict the current “no-show juror” trend plaguing court systems in most states.

Last July, the ABA initiated an independent public opinion telephone survey on jury service which disclosed some surprising results. The majority of the 1,029 adults polled consider jury service “an important civic duty that should be fulfilled.” A large majority would want a jury, rather than a judge, to decide their case if they were ever a participant in a trial.

In addition, “75 percent of those polled do not believe jury service is a burden to be avoided; 58 percent consider jury duty a privilege and look forward to the opportunity to participate in it; and 53 percent feel jurors are treated well by the court system.” However, the survey also revealed that 87 percent of the respondents who have been called for jury duty found it to be “important but inconvenient.”

Ironically, while the American public supports and values jury service, the “no-show” rate of summoned jurors is at an all-time high in this country. Many people look for every possible excuse to get out of jury duty and a growing number don’t even bother to report when summoned. In Maryland, roughly 25 percent of citizens called for jury duty fail to show up on a daily basis.

ABA President Robert J. Grey, Jr., finds this contrast an interesting dichotomy. Americans “believe in it wholeheartedly, but serving on a jury today may just not be convenient,” Grey explains. “If we are to improve the response rate to summonses, we must work to strengthen Americans’ understanding that the system they respect works only when they are actively involved.”

To this end, one of Grey’s initiatives as ABA President will be the creation of an American Jury Project to draft a uniform set of modern jury standards that the ABA can propose as a national model. He is also establishing a blue-ribbon Commission on the American Jury which will pursue outreach to the public. “If we are to sustain Americans’ respect for the jury system,” adds Grey, “the legal profession must take steps to move the jury experience into the 21st century.” The ABA leader plans to speak out on behalf of American juries in the next 12 months.

The Honorable Dennis M. Sweeney, a circuit court judge in Howard County who heads the Maryland Judiciary’s Jury Use and Management Committee, welcomes this national spotlight on jury service. “The biggest challenge,” he states, “is the disconnection between the public supporting jury service and actually showing up to do it. Quite often, jurors sit around all day and are not picked. Many consider this a waste of their time, so they don’t report the next time around. If there is a fairly decent chance of being picked to serve, I think people are more inclined to show up.”

“Sometimes, the juror’s time is not efficiently utilized and jurors do sit around,” he notes. This is an area that needs to be addressed, adds Sweeney, who supports the ABA’s new American Jury Project. In addition to the issue of juror time, Sweeney also attributes “no-shows” to daycare and employer compensation problems and people finding it inconvenient or totally forgetting about it.

“Any judge will tell you that jurors who actually serve on juries are very enthusiastic about jury service at the end of the trial, feel it was well worth it and want to do it again. I see this reaction all the time,” asserts Sweeney. This shows that jury service is still a very viable institution, as reflected in the ABA poll findings.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: September, 2004

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