The criminal justice system is extremely ineffective at summoning citizens for jury duty. For example, less than 40% of summonses result in jurors showing up for jury duty in Dallas County. This is likely because 80% of Texans change their residency year after year. Undelivered mail is not only a nuisance, but also extremely expensive and a waste of precious public resources best spent elsewhere. To solve this problem, some have suggested e-summonsing, or to summon people for jury duty via email, social media, and text messages. Others, like Professor Browning, have argued for allowing people to be served online for all matters in his article “Served Without Ever Leaving the Computer.” These arguments emphasize the high percentage of citizens with social media accounts and the cost effectiveness of such initiatives.
The success of these proposed solutions is limited by reverse one dimensional juries, the ineffectiveness of virtual communications, and because of potential security risks.
First, a jury system that relies on summoning jurors solely through email or social media will likely result in reverse one dimensional juries. Young people may respond to e-summoning at higher rates than the old. This could possibly reverse the current trend of predominately older venire members. To resolve this problem, a county should use e-summoning as a supplement to mail delivered summons, and not a replacement. This, of course, assumes that using e-summons is effective in the first place.
E-summoning lacks ‘presence,’ or the seriousness of a letter delivered in the mail and thus may not be as effective as some believe. People ignore emails. They delete them without ever opening them. People can also block messages from certain people, especially on social media sites like Facebook. Others don’t even receive texts, or are charged for receiving them if opened. These forms of communication are extremely informal and carry with them a unique set of norms that do not apply to mail. These norms would likely decrease the effectiveness of e-summoning. Yes, you can throw away a letter without ever reading it just like deleting an email without opening it. However, the act of throwing away a letter clearly sent from a municipal government differs greatly than deleting an email with the click of the mouse. In addition, what platforms should a county use when e-summoning citizens? Email and text messages seem OK, but what about Facebook, Twitter, or Tinder? No studies show that e-summoning will increase participation rates on its own. It could supplement current strategies, but not replace mail as the main method of summoning people for jury duty.
In addition, using e-summoning may create security risks like phishing, which would likely arise with sending out e-summons. Attempting to commit fraud through the mail system is a federal offense, and difficult to commit on a large scale. However, online hackers and ‘phishers’ from anywhere in the world can attempt to rob the identities of millions of unsuspecting people. Such fraud is highly unlikely today because most people expect juror summons in the mail.
In short, e-summoning potential jurors may result in an over representation of young jurors. It may not increase participation because of the unique formalities with online communications, and could result in new security risks. Counties that want to save money by adopting e-summoning should do so cautiously and study the effectiveness of their decision. They could start by asking citizens at the DMV (when renewing their license) or during voter registration if they want to receive future jury summons through email or text messaging.