This year, as Maryland’s legal community celebrates
Law Day, it honors the American Jury, the embodiment of our democracy. Today,
we salute jurors, ordinary citizens who put a human face on the law and deliver
justice to the people. A jury of one’s peers is the foundation of our
free, open democratic government. This Law Day, we applaud the American jury
system and the Americans who serve as jurors.
The right to a trial by jury is a treasured American freedom,
guaranteed by the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Amendments. When our forefathers
fought for American independence during the Revolutionary War, one of the rights
they sought was the right to a trial by jury. They viewed this hallmark of
freedom as a way to resist the tyranny of an unjust government and embedded
it in the Bill of Rights.
Today, Americans generally support jury service and trust
in the jury system, according to the American Bar Association (ABA). The ABA’s
2004 independent public opinion telephone survey on jury service found “many
Americans consider jury duty an important civic duty that should be fulfilled.” A
large majority also wanted a jury, rather than a judge, to decide their case
if they were ever a participant in a trial.
In addition, the ABA survey disclosed that “75 percent
of those polled did not believe jury service was a burden to be avoided; 58
percent considered jury duty a privilege and looked forward to the opportunity
to participate in it; and 53 percent felt jurors were treated well by the court
Public Values Jury System but Reluctant to Serve
Ironically, while Americans value the right to a jury trial and support
jury service, the “no-show” rate for jurors is at an all-time high
in this country. Although Americans recognize its importance, they are reluctant
when summoned and would rather not be the one to serve on a jury. Many people
look for every possible excuse to get out of jury duty while a growing number
just don’t bother to show up at all.
On the average, the daily no-show juror rate across the country
ranges from 40 to 50 percent in urban areas to about 10 percent in rural regions,
according to G. Thomas Munsterman, Principle Court Management Consultant for
the National Center for State Courts. This national trend seems to parallel
that of Maryland.
Across Maryland, the no-show juror rate varies from county
to county, but Baltimore City captures the highest. The City struggles with
a 63 percent no-show rate each day, while Montgomery County doesn’t have
a problem at all. On the other hand, Baltimore County’s daily no-show
rate averages about 15 percent.
Baltimore City has been plagued with a high number of no-show
jurors for years due to its dwindling and transient population, the disqualification
of many residents for criminal convictions and bad addresses. In addition,
though some forget, Nancy Dennis, the City’s Jury Commissioner, believes
many don’t show because of employment compensation issues. The City’s
economic base is far less than surrounding areas, and many employers do not
pay employees for jury service, so many potential jurors simply cannot afford
to take time off to serve on a jury. Others just don’t want to serve
Other jurisdictions fare much better. Baltimore County experienced
a 10 percent no-show rate, which rose to 15 percent when it expanded its juror
pool to include licensed drivers in the county. According to Jury Commissioner
Nancy Tilton, many no-shows simply forget and others are sick or face child-care
problems. However, there are those who just don’t want to serve. Tilton’s
office does hear from some of the no-shows because they call and apologize
and are immediately rescheduled.
Montgomery County hardly ever has no-show jurors. Those that
do, according to Jury Commissioner Nancy Galvin, either forgot or have the
wrong date. She attributes the very high juror response rate to county residents
who are responsible and well-educated. Galvin has also detected an interesting
since 9/11, more people want to serve on a jury, consider it important and
are very conscientious.
In Maryland, many of these initiatives are already underway.
At the statewide level, Maryland’s Judiciary has created an Honor Roll
to recognize employers who fully compensate employees throughout their entire
jury service. According to the Honorable Dennis M. Sweeney, head of the Judiciary’s
Council on Jury Use and Management, the Court is also drafting model jury service
employer policies and conducting a full review of Title 8, the state’s
basic jury law, with special attention to juror privacy issues.
Additionally, Sweeney reports the Court may seek legislation
to ease jury service restrictions for Marylanders with minor criminal convictions. “Our
restrictions, reportedly the harshest in the nation, disqualify anyone with
a criminal conviction of six months or more, or $500 or more, even if the penalty
is fully suspended, unless the person is pardoned by the Governor.”
At the local level, Baltimore City recently introduced Juror
Appreciation week and now offers discounted parking and lunch coupons to jurors
and plans to upgrade its facilities. Baltimore County has designated “quiet
areas” where jurors may read, given them more freedom to move around
and offers a snack room and PG movie.
Public Education Key to Juror Appreciation
While improved facilities and perks cater to juror convenience, public
awareness and public education may be the key to enhancing juror appreciation.
Many people simply do not understand the importance of jury duty. Once they
have served, they see its true value. Thus, the importance and value of jury
service needs to be conveyed to the public.
Serving on a jury educates citizens about the legal system
and dispels many of the distorted perceptions they have about the process of
law gleaned from unrealistic television shows and other media venues. It helps
everyday people understand their role and duties as citizens and shows them
that the system they value and respect only works when they are actively involved
An effective public education campaign could convey the importance
of jury service and improve the general public’s understanding about
jury duty. Ultimately, it could generate a higher response rate for summoned
jurors. As evidenced above, better educated jurors, and those hailing from
more affluent communities and rural regions, seem to have a better understanding
and greater appreciation of jury service.
Jury service preserves, protects and improves our rule of law. Individual
Americans support this nation and show their patriotism by serving on a jury.
It is one of the best ways citizens can be involved in our democracy, fulfill
their civic duties and exercise their individual rights granted under the Constitution.
Everyday people constitute our government, hence their active participation
in it, including serving on a jury, is critical to our country’s future
So today, on Law Day, we salute these everyday citizens – our
jurors. The American jury is vital to our democracy and one of the cornerstones
of our freedom. MSBA applauds all Maryland citizens who serve on juries.