Making jury service fair

June 17, 1994

The Court of Appeals has approved Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan's request to add to the circuit court's jury pool Baltimore residents who have a driver's license but are not registered voters.

Judge Kaplan says the extra number of potential jurors is needed to halt a disturbing trend in jury selection here. The trend is that many residents get called to the courthouse for possible jury duty relatively frequently, and many others get called

seldom, if ever. Even the most responsible citizen's sense of civic duty is strained by the inequity. Some have responded by dropping off the voter rolls. This is doubly irresponsible and harmful to the city's sense of community.

Judge Kaplan believes the addition of some 190,000 non-voting drivers to the approximately 337,000 Baltimore voters now on the juror rolls will make it unlikely that any citizen would be called for jury duty more than once every two or two-and-a-half years. Unlikely maybe, but not certain. Many jurors will still be called after little more than a year, while many others still won't be called for years at a time.

The problem is not so much with the size of the list as it is with the way the computerized "jury wheel" of prospective jurors is maintained. Once you are summoned for duty, your name is dropped from the wheel -- for one year. When you are put back in the wheel after that year, the computer treats you exactly as it treats those who haven't been called in years -- or ever. It selects names randomly. Mr. X. Juror's chance of being called in the next 12 months would go down a little if the pool were larger, but so would Ms. Never A. Juror's chance. Both would still have the same chance of being randomly selected.

Re-entry after a year is mandated by state law, except in cases of service on juries in longer trials. Those jurors are excused for three years. Even without the addition of the drivers, but certainly with them, the circuit court could excuse for three years all those called for jury duty and still always have a large enough pool to operate smoothly. The city calls only about 30,000 would-be jurors a year. Even after culling those names on current lists that are permanently disqualified from jury service because of age, handicap, etc., or are unlocatable, having 90,000 residents excused on the basis of service within the previous three years would still leave the city with at least 80,000 truly tTC eligible jurors at any one time, without the addition of the drivers, and at least half again that many with them. Either sized pool is more than enough for 30,000 summonses.

No one can be happy about citizens avoiding the duties of citizenship. But when the system of apportioning those duties isn't fair, many citizens will become slackers. The best way to avoid that is to ensure fairness and equity in the shouldering of burdens.

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