Jury Summons

Jury Summons

Sunday, November 2, 2014


            A major problem in the jury process is the lack of responsiveness to juror summons.  In Montgomery County, Texas, eighty-five percent of people that received a juror summons did not appear to serve jury duty.  In Dallas County, Texas eighty-one percent of people that received a juror summons did not appear.  There are many reasons for such low juror turn out. But, one of the primary reasons for low juror turnout rates are that many individuals—especially those from low socioeconomic statuses—frequently change addresses.  And, as a result, many juror summons are undeliverable.  Typically, minorities and young people are more likely to have juror summons be undeliverable because both of these demographics change addresses frequently.  The end result is a lower representativeness of minorities and young people on juries.  This begs the question of how to decrease the number of undeliverable juror summons and thus increasing jury representativeness.

            A way to solve this problem is to send a summons to an address that summons all residents of that address above eighteen-years-old, instead of an individual that the court hopes to be at that address.  When a juror summons is undeliverable, most likely the summons was delivered to the juror’s last known address and the new resident at that address informs the court that the juror no longer resides at there.  This type of rule would solve several key problems under the current system as well as create some problems of its own.

            First, undeliverable summons would almost disappear.  The juror summons problem would turn into a Willy Wonka scenario in that whoever received the summons would have to respond—although jurors would likely not be near as thrilled to receive a juror summons as a golden ticket.  The government would no longer need to worry about keeping current addresses on its citizens, at least for jury summons purposes.  This might also increase the actual number of potential jurors because a summons would have the potential to reach multiple people in a residence (e.g. husband and wife or roommates) as opposed to only targeting one person at a residence.  Only vacant properties would render summons undeliverable, which could likely be offset by a summons acquiring more than one juror at a residence.

            Second, minorities and young people would be more represented on juries.  Jury summons would be delivered to addresses in a low socioeconomic area or apartment complex and whoever is at that address (likely a minority or young person) would have to respond to the summons.  Thus, more summonses would reach minorities and young people and lead to greater representation on juries.

This rule creates two obvious problems.  First, the government would not know whom to punish for failing to appear after receiving a summons.  If a summons is sent to an address that has residents and the residents choose to disregard the summons, it would not be directly apparent who should be punished for such disregard.  However, this can be overcome with a little diligence from the government to discover who resided at the address at the time the summons was sent.  Also, failures to appear are so rarely enforced that this problem might be moot.  Second, an issue arises as to timeshares and vacation properties.  People who own lake houses likely do not permanently reside at the lake house, so what happens when a summons is sent to those residences?  One way to overcome this problem is to have the person who owns the lake house to alert the jurisdiction that is used for vacation purposes and it is not their primary residence.  This is not ideal, but it solves the problem.

So, in conclusion, summonsing residences will increase juror turnout and representativeness of minorities and young people.

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