Jury Summons

Jury Summons

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Juror Utilization and the Waiting Room Effect

Think about the typically jury room—tile floor, plain walls, rows of hard-backed chairs, and an old tube television. It’s the quintessential waiting room. And for the nearly 40% of potential jurors not impaneled, this is their only major exposure to the jury process. If it is to be believed that perception of jury service is correlated to actual participation in the process, then summoning people to sit in such a starkly mundane room is counterproductive to the objective of fielding an optimal jury. This “waiting room effect” is obtuse and unnecessary.

There are two commonly used methods for lessening the waiting room effect; both target increasing the juror utilization rate. Juror utilization is defined as “the rate at which qualified and available jurors are used at least once in trial or voir dire, expressed as a percentage of the total number of qualified and available jurors (yield).” In the first method court administrators summon smaller jury pools, thus reducing the number of jurors on the bottom half of the utilization equation. This method is wrought with flaws. Most notably, under-estimation of needs could lead to juror shortages that often grind the gears of justice to a halt. The second method is to minimize trial cancellations, thus increasing number of jurors ultimately impaneled on the top half of the utilization equation. Courts have affected this change by either charging a fee to litigants for last minute cancellations or setting a hard deadline for settlement prior to trial. Of course, this directly interferes with the litigation process. For both methods, the risk of inefficiency alone is enough to dismiss them as imperfect and ineffective solutions.

The Solution

Here enters I-JuryTM, the online jury management system used by Travis County, Texas. I-Jury takes on the juror utilization rate from both halves of the equation. Like online mechanisms employed by other jurisdictions, I-Jury allows potential jurors to respond to their summons questionnaire, confirm their basic identifiable information, and request exemptions where applicable. Still, the system’s true benefits come forward after this point. I-Jury allows potential jurors to input scheduling conflicts, automatically assigns jurors to trials in advance, and offers notification by text message of cancellations. Through the system, Travis County is calling fewer jurors to the courthouse and increasing the usage of those called there to near 100%.

What’s more, Travis County has had resounding success with I-Jury. Since its inaugural year (2002), the number of jurors using the online system has grown from 70% to 95%. Further, one 2010 estimation set the number of saved trips to the courthouse in Austin at 70,000 per year. Most impressive though is the secondary effect that the system appears to have improved racial representation on juries.

For all intents and purposes, I-Jury or online systems like it are the solution to the waiting room effect because of the balanced attack on all aspects of the problem. Nonetheless, the main reason it demands widespread usage is that it treats potential jurors as the people they actually are by valuing their time. Courts that incorporate measures like I-Jury can create goodwill with their jury pool. As said before, perception is a key factor of participation: improve the perception, improve the process.

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