Government

Iowa courts look to cast a wider net to find potential jurors

Bill proposes adding non-financial tax return information of Iowans

Steve Davis, communications director of the Iowa Judicial Branch
Steve Davis, communications director of the Iowa Judicial Branch

The Iowa Judicial Branch has proposed a bill to include non-financial information from Iowans’ tax filings as an additional source list to randomly select jury pools.

The current pools are selected from lists of registered voters and those who have state identification cards. This bill would expand the lists to ensure jurors represent a fair cross-section of the community.

Steve Davis, communications director of the Iowa Judicial Branch, recently explained the bill that was first filed in 2019.

Q: Can you explain the process of how jurors are selected in Iowa and what source lists are used?

A: Each year, the Iowa Judicial Branch obtains names from a list of licensed drivers, state identification card holders and registered voters residing in each county and compiles that information into a master jury list. The names of deceased persons, provided by the Department of Health, are removed from the source list as well as duplicates from the merged list and anyone disqualified such as those not yet 18 years of age. From that list, individuals are randomly selected by computer. Any citizen may review the master list to determine if his or her name is on the list.

Q: Can you explain how the idea to expand the jury list came about? Why is it needed?

A: Two recent Iowa Supreme Court opinions directly and indirectly strengthen protections against racial discrimination in the selection of jurors. Both recognize a defendant’s right to a jury that reflects a fair cross-section of the community. Following the issuing of the opinions, the Supreme Court appointed a committee to review the process on how we select jury pools and jurors in Iowa. The process had not been changed in 30 years, and the court wanted to make sure the makeup of jury pools and jurors represented a fair cross-section of the community. One of the committee’s recommendations was for the judicial branch to incorporate an Iowa Department of Revenue source list as part of the master jury list.

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Q: Isn’t using tax information a concern for security? What would this bill allow and not allow? Do other states use tax information as a jury source list?

A: Tax information provided in the bill is limited to the name, date of birth, last four digits of the Social Security number, and address of the taxpayer and spouse. The information provided will not include the financial information of the taxpayer and will be limited to the same fields of information provided by other sources. According to information provided by the National Center for State Courts, as of December 2019 data, there were 18 other states using taxpayer information for jury source lists.

Q: This bill was first filed in 2019. Do you know what happened at that time?

A: The bill was first filed for the 2019 session and was still alive for the 2020 session. During the 2020 legislative session, the bill passed both Senate and House judiciary committees and passed the House chamber unanimously in March shortly before the Legislature shut down for three months due to COVID-19. When the Legislature resumed in June, they were working on a tight schedule to pass priority policy bills and the budget. The jury bill has a 2023 effective date. Given the abbreviated legislative session, the jury bill was not deemed urgent since it would not be effective for over two years. The bill was refiled for this year.

Q: Did court officials consult with the Iowa Department of Revenue? Any concerns?

A: Yes, the bill reflects consensus between the judicial branch and Department of Revenue. During the 2020 legislative session, the department of revenue requested an amendment to move the effective date to 2023 to allow them time to implement a new tax processing system first.

Q: The master list should include about 85 percent of the jury eligible population, according to the National Center for State Courts. What is the percentage now in Iowa with the current master list?

A: About 92 percent. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated Iowa’s 18-plus population last July as 2,428,229. The master juror list names in November 2020 (annual update) was 2,252,536. Although the master list contains nearly 93 percent of the jury eligible population, it does not contain up-to-date contact information for many of those people. Income tax lists may not always yield significant increases in the overall number of eligible jurors, but it has been shown to contain more accurate juror addresses.

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Q: Does each district review those master lists annually to make sure they are up to date?

A: Master lists for each county are prepared on an annual basis.

Q: Have the master lists been more difficult to update because of the pandemic? An example may be some people have lost their jobs and may have moved or lost their housing.

A: We have not seen any impact on the creation of master lists from COVID-19.

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

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