Jurors to be chosen from MVA records Adding drivers will supplement use of voter lists

'Inclusive' system sought

Potential panelists will increase by about 150,000

November 03, 1995|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel Circuit Court officials will begin using motor vehicle records next year to expand the pool of prospective candidates to serve on juries.

Judge Robert H. Heller Jr., the administrative judge, said yesterday that jury panels will be chosen from lists of the county's licensed drivers, along with the voter registration lists, after Jan. 1 in an attempt to get a broader cross section of county residents on juries.

"We want to make the system as inclusive as possible," he said.

Robert G. Wallace, Circuit Court administrator, said adding licensed drivers to the list of potential jurors will increase the number of candidates to about 370,000. There are 220,000 registered voters in the county, he said.

By using licensed drivers and registered voters, the county will tap 90 percent of the county's population eligible to serve on juries, Mr. Wallace said. Using voter lists limited the pool to 64 percent of those eligible, he said.

Alan R. Friedman, the county public defender, who asked Judge Heller last year to make the change, said it will lead to more diverse juries in terms of race and economic backgrounds and will instill more confidence in the jury system.

"It will help promote acceptance of jury verdicts when you know the pool was chosen from the broadest cross section possible," Mr. Friedman said.

State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee said using MVA records could lead to jurors who are less interested and less conscientious about doing a good job.

"I don't see anything wrong with a system of having people who sit on juries who are interested enough in their communities that they've registered to vote," he said.

Defense lawyers say minorities often are underrepresented on jury panels, raising questions about the fairness of jury verdicts. Using MVA records will help address that, they say.

"Every juror I've ever talked to gives it their best shot. But at the same time, perception is part of the process, and I think if people leave court feeling at least they got a fair shot, that's important," said Joseph F. Devlin, a Glen Burnie lawyer. "And more minority representation is going to help give people that feeling."

Of the county's 448,000 residents, 12 percent are members of minority groups, according to county planning estimates.

A prospective juror must be at least 18 years old and have no felony convictions.

Those chosen for jury service, which pays $15 a day, are sent notices in the mail directing them to report to the courthouse on a Tuesday or a Thursday and to remain on call for the next two weeks, Mr. Wallace said.

Anyone picked to serve on a jury is excused from being called for the next three years, he said.

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