Jury Duty is a Broken Model

Image by LWY on Flickr used under Creative Commons

Image by LWY on Flickr used under Creative Commons

On Friday, I received a summons to appear for jury duty.

First, let me say that I’m in favor of civic duty, the right to a jury trial, all that.

I don’t think I’m the only one who dreads a summons to jury duty though. This is the first time I’ve been called in Oregon, and they don’t have an automated way to let you know if you’re actually needed or not. In California, at least one county I lived in had a call-in number that would let you know if you were excused or not. This saved me a trip to the courthouse at least once.

Anyway, over the weekend, I was watching Let’s Go to Prison. In one scene, the protagonist bemoans a jury trial as a group of people too dumb to think up an excuse to get out of serving. Funny, but not so much.

This sums up common perception of jury duty very nicely, and assuming it’s mostly true, it influences the ability to get a fair trial by a jury of your peers.

I think the process of serving on a jury needs an overhaul, and I’m probably not alone.

I have some ideas.

I started by thinking about what I dislike most about being called to jury duty. First and foremost, the timing is always bad, mostly because you can’t control when you’re called, or how long you’ll need to serve.

They usually give you a few week’s notice, but no one likes the prospect of having to take off work sit on a jury.Plus, depending on how your employer handles jury duty, you could be out of pocket.

Here’s my idea: use prediction market for scheduling.

For each rolling calendar of say twelve months, call all the people who will be required to serve and provide them with five or so choices for days they can be called. This provides people with the ability to schedule around their personal and work lives.

On the court side, you could use the information to determine when the pool of jurors will be large or small. This could, in turn, influence the scheduling of trials.

Scheduling could also help people get an idea of the committment required of them, e.g. if my service is expected to be a day or two, I can more easily find room for it in my schedule. A week, not so much, but there’s no way of knowing, so everyone tries to get out of it due to the negative prospect of serving on a long, draw-out trial.

This behavior negatively affects the pool of available jurors, which may affect the ability to assemble a jury of peers.

My guess is a lot of people are like me. We’re generally in favor of jury duty (and civic responsiblity), but we’re all busy, making jury service a hassle. If I could fit jury duty into my scheudule, instead of vice versa, I’d probably be more receptive to serving. I’d also more able to serve if I knew when and how much time to block out time for an actual trial.

I also think incentives would be useful, e.g. let people know that serving three or more days exempts them from being called for a year, etc. The prospect of being jury duty free for a longer period would definitely create an incentive for some people to serve on longer trials.

Also, if the court offered incentives to people who agreed to serve during a period that was lean on prospective jurors (e.g. during traditional vaction periods or around holidays), they might be able to fill juries, rather than change the court schedule.

Obviously, there are significant legal issues at work that I’m not considering. Still, I think that modeling jury service as a market could help all parties involved.

What do you think? What would make you more willing to serve on a jury?

Find the comments.

AboutJake

a.k.a.:jkuramot

5 comments

  1. Regarding your ideas on scheduling of trials – one potential problem might be the Constitutional right to a speedy trial, as enshrined in the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Let's say for a moment that John Doe's case is ready for trial in late June, but all of the jurors say that they won't be available until September, even with your idea of incentives for serving during lean times. Could the defendant then go free because the right to a speedy trial was not granted?

    But frankly, that's the only potential problem that I can see with your ideas, other than budget – and even then, I'm not sure that it would cost substantially more to organize jury availability a little bit better. Right now you have to hire employees to watch potential jurors wait around all day; if things were better scheduled, perhaps there are some cost savings there that would offset the increased costs of incentives and the like.

  2. Stupid rights getting in the way of my great ideas.

    I did factor that into my thoughts. The rolling implementation would phase in the prediction market over the course of 12-15 months, which should create enough of the cattle call jurors to prevent any un-speedy trial hiccups. You could supplement by doing emergency call-ins when the calendar was too heavy.

    Over time, prediction would become better, making incentives and cattle calls less necessary.

    I do think there's a problem though. So many people find ways to be excused without serving, it makes you wonder who actually serves. I think the negative forces acting against serving on a jury are having an adverse effect on the available pool of jurors, which in turn, could affect the verdicts.

  3. I did factor that into my thoughts. The rolling implementation would phase in the prediction market over the course of 12-15 months, which should create enough of the cattle call jurors to prevent any un-speedy trial hiccups. You could supplement by doing emergency call-ins when the calendar was too heavy.

    Over time, prediction would become better, making incentives and cattle calls less necessary.

    I do think there's a problem though. So many people find ways to be excused without serving, it makes you wonder who actually serves. I think the negative forces acting against serving on a jury are having an adverse effect on the available pool of jurors, which in turn, could affect the verdicts.

  4. If you really wanted to look into it, I suggest taking a look at the way Montgomery County, Maryland handles its jury pool.

    When I was summoned there I had the option to re-schedule in the near future (i.e. I want to come in on Thursday, not Monday) or could push it out 6 months if I was going to be away or in some other way unavailable.

    You can check the night before to see if you are excused. Otherwise, show up in the morning. They complete their jury selections by about 1pm and they can give you an estimate as to how long the trial might take depending on what it is.

    Worked efficiently from my perspective. No going back multiple days, only a half day commitment unless you got selected, you know the type of trial (civil, criminal, etc.)

  5. This is similar to the way the county I lived in the Bay Area handled it, and I prefer that model to the one they have here in Multnomah.

    I still think the model can be improved. Most people expect to be excused and don't want to serve. This negatively affects the composition of juries, IMO. I guess I'd like to see service as the expectation, with better scheduling wrapped around it.

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