Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : May 2005

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Law Day 2005 Tribute to the American Jury
By Janet Stidman Eveleth

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 system.”

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 at all.

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 trend – 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 in it.

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 success.

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.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: May, 2005

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