A jury of one's peers? Panels chosen from vehicle records will be more representative.

November 13, 1995

ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY's decision to start culling prospective jurors from lists of drivers, in addition to voter rolls, is a move that will lend more credibility to the claim that defendants have the right to be tried by a jury of their peers. "We want to make the system as inclusive as possible," says Robert H. Heller Jr., the administrative judge of the county Circuit Court.

By adopting the new system, the county will be able to tap 90 percent of its adult population eligible to serve on juries and not just the 64 percent who are registered to vote.

Future juries are likely to better reflect the county's racial and economic diversity. According to Alan R. Friedman, the county public defender, this "will help promote acceptance of jury verdicts when you know the pool was chosen from the broadest cross-section possible."

Some county officials, including State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee, have expressed fears that a broader jury selection method may result in juries that are less motivated to do a good job. According to this argument, voting is a criterion that assures a person's civic-mindedness and commitment to good government.

We do not share those fears.

No one can be happy about citizens avoiding the duties of citizenship, but if one is truly to be tried by a jury of peers, that means more than dutiful voters. Indeed, the realization by citizens that voting is not the only qualification for jury duty might encourage more people to register to vote.

A broader jury selection process has been in force in Baltimore City, where many people have neglected to register to vote, presumably to avoid jury duty. The results have been encouraging. We are certain the new method will also prove beneficial in Anne Arundel. It also will mean that people will be called to serve less often.

The broader selection method was first proposed by Mr. Friedman, the public defender. He was right to express concerns about the effect of voting rolls as the sole source for selecting juries. Motor vehicle records offer a sounder basis for jury pools.

When potential jurors are culled from driving records, the message is clear: Serving on a jury is not a choice in the system we know as democratic government. It's an obligation.

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