Jury Summons

Jury Summons

Monday, October 13, 2014

How Can Juries Be More Representative? Try Using Federal Tax Returns

Traditionally, several groups of minorities have been left off of juries. This may have been due to prejudice, mistake, error, or a variety of other reasons. http://www.eji.org/files/EJI%20Race%20and%20Jury%20Report.pdf.  However, today, certain groups such as minorities and younger Americans are still frequently left off of juries. How can we fix this problem?

There are many possible solutions, but one option that has a good chance of succeeding is a centralized jury system compiled using federal tax returns. Using this method, the IRS would share a filer's (and eligible family members') name, social security number, and address with courts and jury summons jurisdictions. No personal information would be used. This method presents two large upsides, little downside, and has a high benefit/cost relationship.

There are two major upsides to using federal tax returns. First, increased coverage of possible jurors would occur. Currently, in most states juror rolls are created using only lists of people who possess drivers’ licenses or who are currently registered to vote. Unfortunately, this excludes many minorities and young people, who either don’t possess those documents because they have never driven or voted or because something has prevented them from doing so in the past. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/08/07/why-arent-young-people-getting-drivers-licenses-too-much-hassle/, http://thedataweb.rm.census.gov/TheDataWeb_HotReport2/voting/voting.hrml. Oppositely, every American who earns more than the standard deduction must file a federal income tax return each year, which is about 98% percent of Americans and their families. http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2011/10/19/what-percent-are-you/, http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/26/6012.  Moreover, other categories of people have to file federal income tax returns each year as well. Thus, this logically means that many people who are currently left off of juror rolls would be included, and many more minorities and young people would be called for jury duty.

Additionally, using federal income tax returns for juror summons lists would increase the accuracy of the lists. Many people move each year, and thus surely are summoned to juries in locations where they don’t actually live. http://blogs.census.gov/2012/12/10/america-a-nation-on-the-move/. Also, logically, people who move into new jurisdictions must get new drivers’ licenses and must re-register to vote, which people may forget to do or just may not do at all. http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/driverlicense/movingtotexas.htm. However, a federal income tax return more accurately tracks people because it must be filed each year, and thus it is at least current on a yearly basis. This tracking is automatic, because one must file a tax return with the government anyway. This means a juror summons list would be much more accurate, and a representation based on the community is much more possible.

The only downside to this proposal is that federal law doesn't currently allow for federal tax return information to be shared with state jury departments or courts. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/26/6103. However, if partisan gridlock can be overcome, this statute could be amended and this proposal would then be legal.

Finally, there is great benefit and almost no cost to this method. As noted, this method would increase both the accuracy and coverage of people who can be summoned for jury duty and who live in the community. There is also very little cost. The IRS already processes about 83% of its returns electronically, and has the technology to utilize this process. http://www.irs.gov/PUP/newsroom/FY%202013%20Enforcement%20and%20Service%20Results%20--%20WEB.pdf. There are almost no other costs to implementing this system.

Thus, a juror summons system based on federal tax returns instead of state drivers’ licenses and voter rolls could be very beneficial for including minorities and young people on juries, better creating a jury representative of the community.

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