Expanding Anne Arundel's jury pool

July 14, 1994

This country gives every citizen the opportunity to vote. It's an opportunity individuals have the freedom to accept or not. Because jury duty is tied to voter registration, it, too, has become an option people can accept or evade.

It ought not to be. Jury duty isn't an exercise for the civic-minded only. It is an essential part of this country's system of justice and a responsibility common to every adult who lives here.

That is a good reason to support Anne Arundel County public defender Alan R. Friedman's suggestion that the juror pool be expanded beyond voter registration lists to include Motor Vehicle Administration registration lists as well.

The state Board of Election Laws estimates that "thousands" of people don't register to vote in order to avoid jury duty; the number who simply don't bother to sign up to vote -- while not consciously trying to get out of sitting on a jury -- probably is even greater.

The current system of jury selection allows all these people to absolve themselves of a responsibility that should have nothing to do with one's willingness to get involved in civic affairs.

Political involvement and community activism are not requirements for jurors. A defendant has a right to be judged by a jury of his or her peers, whatever type of people they may be.

The practical advantages of drawing jurors from the voting rolls and MVA records are clear. Opening the jury pool to drivers means better minority representation, which is one of Mr. Friedman's primary reasons for proposing the change.

No one knows exactly how many county jurors are non-white. But minorities account for 12 percent of the population, and court observers say minority representation on local juries is well below that.

By spreading the burden, a larger jury pool will also mean that people will be called to serve less often, though admittedly there does not seem to be a big problem in the county with jurors being called too frequently.

The state Court of Appeals, which would have to consent to a change in jury selection, has already approved such a move in Baltimore City, where, as in Anne Arundel, the courts are concerned about enlarging the jury pool. We hope local judges follow through on Mr. Friedman's suggestion and make a similar request of the appellate court.

As it is, serving on a jury is a choice. It ought to be considered an obligation.

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