Jury Duty: Why Not Ask Who Wants to Do It?

12-angry-men-inside-amy-schumerI just spent the last 2 days sitting in a room waiting.

This was my third time being called in for jury duty. In case you’ve never gone through the process, or perhaps your process is different than in St. Louis, here’s how it works:

  • A bunch of people (maybe 500? 1000?) are selected a few months in advance to appear for jury duty. You’re legally required to do it, and your job must allow you to do it.
  • All of those people must show up at the downtown courthouse on Monday morning each week. Each person is assigned a number and they sit down in a big room to wait.
  • When one of the nearby courts needs a jury, 54 numbers are randomly selected. Those people leave the big room and go to a courtroom.
  • In the courtroom, both attorneys ask the potential jurors a bunch of questions to determine who can be fair and unbiased. From my experience, this process usually lasts about a day, and by the end of the day the lawyers agree on a jury of 12 people plus a few alternates.

The entire process seems largely based on randomness (to get a mix of people of all ages, races, genders, etc) and breadth of selection (to make sure there are enough people available during the questioning process to narrow it down to 12 ideal jurors).

However, the one thing that seems to be missing from the process is the question of whether or not someone wants to be on the jury. These seems particularly important, because if you actively don’t want to be on the jury, you might rush your decision.

I wasn’t picked for jury duty today. As I walked out of the courthouse, I heard one person remark, “I wish I could have been chosen.”

This struck me, especially because I was one of the many people who was hoping not to get chosen. Why is the desire to serve as a juror not factored at all into the decision?

I’d propose a simple solution (which I’m sure lawyers will point out as completely misguided, which I’m fine with). When a person confirms receipt of their jury summons form, they should have to check one of two boxes:

  1. I will show up for jury duty, but I hope to not be selected. I agree to receive $18 a day for my service if I am selected or if I am not selected.
  2. I will show up for jury duty, and I hope to be selected. I agree to receive $30 a day for my service if I am selected or if I am not selected.

In this system, everyone still has to show up and sit around for 2 days. They’re still selected randomly and sent to the courtrooms, and they go through the same questioning process.

But when the questions are complete and the lawyers sit down to select the jury, those who chose #2 are given the clear priority over those who chose #1, all other factors remaining equal.

This would hopefully lead to happier juries that don’t rush their decisions. It wouldn’t feel like a burden, because they either wanted to be on the jury in the first place and/or they’d like a little extra cash in their pockets.

It would also give people like me who feel they don’t have time to serve on the jury (though I would give it my full attention if selected–I feel like that’s part of my duty as a US citizen) the option to make less money and be considered at less of a priority that the $30 jurors.

What do you think? Would this work? Which option would you choose?


6 Responses to “Jury Duty: Why Not Ask Who Wants to Do It?”

  1. This would be bad because the self-selection will bias the jury. I sure as hell would not liked to have my guilt or lack thereof pronounced by a group of people who WANT to spend their days judging other people. Especially in certain states.

    The issue with this suggestion is you are forgetting who the “clients” of the justice system are and what their goals for the system are. You have three stakeholders: the prosecution (who wants conviction), the defense (who wants acquittal), and “the people” (who theoretically want the just outcome). Jurors are not stakeholders in this and the justice system should not be designed for their benefit.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Michael: These are interesting points. I think, though, that the lawyers could still choose the most unbiased jury AND prioritize their selections based on those who were more inclined to be on the jury than others.

      One woman stood up during the questioning yesterday and said that she had previously been on a jury where they had gotten to Friday in their deliberations and they just wanted to go home and be done with the trial. So their verdict hinged on their desire to go home. That’s not good for any of the stakeholders in the justice system. I feel like situations like that could be largely avoided if the people wanted to be on a jury.

      • True, it’s bad to have someone who bases their decision on getting to leave. But this is what I picture when I think of people who actively seek out being on a jury: https://www.ezthemes.com/previews/y/yumtweetydt.jpg

        When I was selected for a jury here in NY (I can’t speak about other states’ procedures), the first 12 random people who weren’t cut (one was an actual cop and freely stated to the judge he felt anyone the cops arrested were definitely guilty) became the jury. It wasn’t a collaborative process of picking a group of 12 people. Just a you’re in or you’re cut.

        To incorporate preference into this system, that would mean that those who indicate a desire to serve would get first shot at one of the spots instead of being random. Which would end up introducing the bias unless every single one of them made such insane statements as the cop did.

        I don’t see how you can both incorporate a preference and not bias the jury, unless you can come up with some sort of procedure that corrects for it. Consider it a game design challenge from me to you!

        • Jamey Stegmaier says:

          I think perhaps the key is that all other factors remain equal. Like, if you have two perfect jury candidates (there were plenty of people in the courtroom with me who didn’t answer any question “incorrectly,” making them prime candidates), and one is fine with being on the jury and the other just wants to go home, I would think it’s fine to choose the one who wants to be on the jury. But maybe not–you make a good point about people who love judging other people. 🙂

  2. Ryan Peach says:

    I’m wondering if a candidate, metting all other criteria, could be denied jury duty our of a desire for greater diversity on the jury.

    • Ryan Peach says:

      Sorry, meant to say more and correct errors.

      I see the possibility of identifying a desire for jury duty as being used against the candidate based on Jamey’s suggestion of increased pay for those jurors. Those who select the candidates are the only ones in this process who make the meaningful decisions so where the candidates have none it ultimately doesn’t matter if they want to be on the jury or not and so why should any of them be paid more for it? A desire to be on the jury could be the very thing used to filter that candidate out.

      As long as jury duty is a legal requirement there is no incentive to make jury duty more desireable or less inconvenient.
      The homeless and the unemployed seem the most ideally suited for summoninggiven a deficit of funds and a surplus of time.

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