Public Safety

Committee makes recommendations for jury fairness, equality

What They're Thinking: Ideas to make jury process "more convenient and user friendly"

The jury box in courtroom 3C at the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids. (Gazette file photo)
The jury box in courtroom 3C at the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids. (Gazette file photo)
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A Committee on Jury Selection was appointed last year by the Iowa Supreme Court to review how jury pools and jurors are selected across the state.

The committee’s goal is to ensure the makeup of the jury pools and jurors represent a fair cross-section of the community. The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution entitles defendants to have a fair and impartial jury.

Justice David Wiggins was chairman of the committee and 11 others served as members. The members included judges, state senators and representatives, community members and court administration.

Todd Nuccio, state court administrator for the Iowa Judicial Branch, served as a member on the committee and explains some of the recommendations.

Q: Which of the recommendations are the most crucial? And which do you think will help in providing a more fair representation of the community?

A: Each recommendation addresses a different part of the jury selection process. All are important in addressing the full picture.

Ensuring that a jury is representative of the community at large begins with inclusiveness of the source lists of possible jurors used in preparing a master list for each term or trial and ends with the selection process in the courtroom.

By adding a new Department of Revenue source list, to select jurors from, we will see more accurate addresses and fewer undeliverable jury summonses.

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This is important as some portions of the population are more transient than others and don’t always update their voter registration and driver’s license information with the same frequency as they do in filing their taxes.

Making the jury process more convenient and user friendly, which is another recommendation, will also aid in ensuring representativeness. By reducing terms that each serve and providing reminder text messages to prospective jurors will prevent fewer people from failing to appear — no shows.

Q: There is a recommendation to provide implicit bias training for court personnel and attorneys. Implicit bias refers to attitudes or stereotypes that affect understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious manner.

The committee determined all court personnel and lawyers should be aware of implicit stereotypes and attitudes in order to achieve fairness and equality throughout the court process, which includes jury selection. Will that happen this year?

A: Implicit bias training for all court personnel has already been completed. Providing implicit bias training to attorneys will need to be coordinated with the Iowa State Bar Association and local bar associations throughout the state.

We are also looking at more widely using a video that was created by the U.S. District Court Western District of Washington or developing our own.

The recommendation also stated the judicial branch should provide educational material about implicit bias on the jury website page.

Q: How was the decision made to add income tax lists as a source for jury pools? Was there discussion over using unemployment lists and others such as, housing authorities?

A: The voter and driver lists currently used have demonstrated to be the two best source lists for capturing the eligible population. The income tax list has also been shown to contain more up-to-date contact information as I noted above.

The use of other lists was discussed but determined to add no additional value in terms of capturing eligible names or the currency of information.

Q: Did you talk about increasing pay for jurors? What is it now across the state?

A: In accordance with Iowa Code, jurors receive $30 per day for the first seven days plus reimbursement for mileage.

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In accordance with Supreme Court rules, jurors receive $50 per day for each day thereafter plus the reimbursement for mileage under Iowa Code. There is a recommendation in the report regarding juror fees but no action was taken to change it.

Q: Can you explain the recommendation on allowing the number of peremptory challenges — each side can object to a juror without giving a reason — when selecting the final 12 jurors and the education requirement for judges about these challenges?

A: The recommendation is to reduce the number of peremptory challenges allowed for each side. Peremptory challenges are discretionary in nature.

These discretionary strikes can be based on implicit bias or can disguise explicit bias by offering a plausible alternative reason. Judges are generally conservative with the granting of challenges for cause because the parties can use their peremptory challenges.

Education would be needed to help judges assess when a challenge for cause should be given greater consideration.

All the committee’s recommendations are found on the Iowa Judicial Branch website.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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