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Minority Representation in the Jury Selection Process in Pennsylvania
Authorization: 2001 Senate Resolution 268, 2300

The criminally accused enjoy a constitutional right to be tried by an impartial jury. The U.S. Constitution requires the jury to be “of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed,” and Pennsylvania’s Constitution requires the jury to be “of the vicinage.” Being a criminal defendant is likely a lonely ordeal because it is the entire Commonwealth or the entire nation against one person. It is likely a distressing circumstance because the criminal defendant’s life, liberty and property may be jeopardized. While impartial jurors may be either sex and all races and ethnicities, it is understandable if a criminal defendant faces a homogeneous or nearly homogeneous jury whose demographic characteristics obviously differ from his and wonders whether the jury judging him will be impartial.

Residents in a community whose demographic characteristics differ noticeably from persistently homogeneous or nearly homogeneous juries might also question the impartiality of these juries. Since any potential juror may be challenged for cause, and one who is unable or unwilling to be impartial would be dismissed, the demography of a jury should theoretically not matter. In fact, homogeneous juries are permissible, but large, distinctive groups may not be excluded from the jury pool. To fulfill the guarantee of an impartial jury in all criminal prosecutions, a fair cross section of the community must be on venires from which juries are drawn. This right is explained in the report as is its statutory and judicial implementation.

On October 9, 2002, Pennsylvania’s Senate adopted Senate Resolution 268 directing the Joint State Government Commission to compare the level of representation of minorities in juries for criminal proceedings to that of the general population of counties. If necessary, the Commission is directed to determine methods to improve the jury pooling process to ensure that the level of minority representation in jury pools is generally proportional to a county’s percentage of minorities in residence. This resolution also directs the Commission to study the real and nominal amounts of compensation for jurors and the effect of inadequate compensation.

The primary rationales expressed by the Senate in adopting this resolution are:

    • A procedural reliance on outdated informational resources to pool juries.
    • Recent evidence that minority citizens are likely being overlooked when pooling jurors in certain counties.
    • The possibility that compensation for jurors is inadequate because it has not been adjusted for inflation in decades.

In response to the resolution, counties across this Commonwealth submitted data to the Commission including each respondent’s actual practice as directed by statute as well as the names and addresses of potential jurors over a one-year period. This data was compiled and studied and is included and explained. Several other recent studies are briefly summarized. For nearly every jurisdiction in the country, the report also publishes statutory qualifications for jurors, sources for master lists of prospective jurors and the amount of juror compensation. To better enable the reader to place this report’s data in the context of constitutional claims of invalid jury selection, tables of opinions from U.S. appellate courts are also included.

Finally, the Commission’s conclusions and recommendations follow its foregoing analysis. These conclusions and recommendations were drawn following staff’s:

    • collection and analysis of the data appearing herein;
    • review of relevant academic and professional literature;
    • consideration of practices across our country;
    • examination of constitutional and statutory requirements;
  • and
    • conversations with several court administrators.

These conclusions and recommendations are more fully explained in the report but are summarized here.

SUMMARY OF CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

    • From the data gathered for this report it is unlikely that any county excludes large, distinctive groups from the jury pool in proportions that violate the constitution. Even so, some counties could stand to improve their representation of minorities on juries.
    • The judicial system should voluntarily, routinely monitor itself to determine if it is fulfilling its constitutional obligation to draw jurors from a cross section of the community. This might require court administrators to record how many individuals from which distinctive groups are summoned for jury service.
    • To change unfavorable public attitudes about jury service, the judicial system should more effectively inform the citizenry of its obligation to comply with summonses to serve, how to defer or seek excusal from service, and what to expect while serving. It is difficult to know what to specifically recommend to accomplish this; however, it is likely that a sustained and varied effort will be required to obtain more favorable attitudes about jury service.
    • Judicial districts should reconsider more vigorously enforcing summonses.
    • Judicial districts should explore whether childcare facilities are viable and provide them if so. If numerous districts consider these facilities to be desirable but economically unviable, the judiciary should consult our General Assembly to determine if these facilities can be feasibly provided across our Commonwealth.
    • Given the varying experiences of courts, it is difficult to conclude that specific or multiple sources be statutorily prescribed. This report summarizes two recent studies that revealed opposite outcomes when similar measures were taken in attempts to make jury pools more representative.
    • The compensation for jurors is outdated and severely insufficient. If adjusted for inflation, jurors would receive more than $53.00 per day. If paid the minimum wage, they would receive $41.20 for an eight-hour day.
    • Employers should be encouraged to compensate their employees while serving as jurors, but it would be inequitable to mandate that they do so.
    • Jury service is a compulsory public service that our judicial system relies upon to constitutionally protect individual rights. Citizens are obliged to serve so that their rights would likewise be protected were they accused of a crime. In other words, it is a responsibility shared between particular individuals and society at large. Ultimately, it is up to individuals to fulfill this obligation.
JOINT STATE GOVERNMENT COMMISSION - GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
108 FINANCE BUILDING - HARRISBURG, PA 17120