This week the Illinois House passed SB 3075 which, if signed into law, will reduce the number of civil jurors from 12 to 6. The bill also increases juror pay from $25 a day to $50 a day. The bill was sponsored by Representative Kelly Burke and is supported by the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association.
New Jersey state Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) has introduced a bill (A2949) to create a new pool of potential jurors from volunteers. The relevant portions of the bill can be found below.
1. N.J.S. 2B:20-2 is amended to read as follows:
2B:20-2. a. The names of persons eligible for jury service shall be selected from a single juror source list of county residents whose names and addresses shall be obtained from a merger of the following lists: registered voters, licensed drivers, filers of State gross income tax returns,[and] filers of homestead rebate or credit application forms and a separate, voluntary list of persons available for jury service including but not limited to persons who are retired, or employed part-time, compiled annually by the county clerk of each county. The county election board, the ounty clerk, the [Division of Motor Vehicles]New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission and the State Division of Taxation shall provide these lists annually to the Assignment Judge of the county. The Assignment Judge may provide for the merger of additional lists of persons eligible for jury service that may contribute to the breadth of the juror source list. Merger of the lists of eligible jurors into a single juror source list shall include a reasonable attempt to eliminate duplication of names, except that persons whose names appear on the separate, voluntary list of persons available for jury service shall not be eliminated for duplication, and may appear up to two times in a merged juror source list.
b. The juror source list shall be compiled once a year or more often as directed by the Assignment Judge.
c. The juror source list may be expanded by the Supreme Court as it deems appropriate.
This bill if enacted into law would raise potential constitutional questions with respect to the defendant's 6th Amendment right to a fair-cross section of jurors.
California has become the first state in the country to introduce legislation to safeguard a juror's social media username and password. California bill (A.B. 2070) prohibits a court from requiring or requesting a juror or prospective juror to disclose a username or password for the purpose of accessing personal social media or requiring the juror or prospective juror to access personal social media in the presence of the judge, counsel for either party, or any other officer of the court.
AB 2070 introduced earlier this year by State Representative Nora Campos is most likely in response to recent efforts by attorneys to gain greater access to the social media accounts of jurors. As some may recall, the attorneys representing Jodi Arias filed a motion, which was denied, to obtain the Twitter handles of prospective jurors. Also, two years ago, a California Appellate Court in Juror #1 v. Superior Court directed a juror to make his Facebook account available to the court.
The California Senate paved the way for non-citizen jurors when it recently passed Assembly Bill 1401 by a vote of 25-11. The legislation allows non-citizens to serve on state juries.
Although the idea of non-citizen jurors may seem like a novel concept, it has actually been around for hundreds of years. For example, England, for close to 500 years, (the practice was eventually abolished by the Naturalization Act of 1870) permitted the jury de medietate linguae, or “jury of the half tongue.” In a jury de medietate linguae a non-citizen defendant was allowed the right to request that half of the jury consist of non-citizens. The practice was used to help non-citizens receive fair treatment under the law. Some have advocated resurrecting the jury de medietate linguae to improve minority representation in the jury box.
In addition to recommending the jury de medietate linguae, defense counsel, representing non-citizen defendants, have repeatedly filed motions requesting that non-citizens be included in the jury array (list of jurors summoned to appear for jury duty). Generally speaking, judges have ruled against these motions finding that the possible prejudice to the defendant's 6th Amendment Rights is outweighed by the government's substantial interest (understanding the proceedings and commitment to carry out the government's laws) in having only U.S. citizens serve as jurors.
I find these rulings somewhat dubious because being a citizen in and of itself does not ensure that an individual understands the trial proceedings or is committed to following the laws of this country. This is reflected every day in voir dire where many citizens summoned to jury duty regularly state that the defendant must testify or prove his innocence. These same citizens then go on to routinely ignore the rules about discussing or researching the facts in the case.
AB 1401 does not remove any requirement that jurors understand the English language; it only expands the number of individuals eligible for jury service. This bill also increases the likelihood that those tried for criminal offenses in CA are truly judged by a jury of their peers. In addition, by having non-citizen jurors, we can ensure that those receiving the benefits of living in the U.S. are also fulfilling the civic responsibilities that come with those benefits. This change may also lead U.S. citizens to better appreciate and value the importance of serving on a jury and how such service helps to preserve democracy.
It should also be noted that very few seem bothered by having non-citizens serve in our armed services where they protect this country and safeguard our constitutional principles. However, for some reason, these same individuals cannot be trusted to serve as jurors. Ironically, non-citizen service members can actually serve on military juries if summoned.
Apparently, Ohio is one of 21 states that grant the right to request a jury trial solely and exclusively to the defendant. The other jurisdictions to include the federal government give prosecutors some say in the process. For example, Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 23 states that a defendant may only waive a trial by jury with the consent of the prosecution. This provision has been upheld by the Supreme Court in Patton v. U.S. and Singer v. U.S.
Recently, Ohio State Rep. Lynn Slaby, a former prosecutor, introduced HB 265. If enacted into law, this bill will allow prosecutors to request a jury trial in any case where the defendant has a similar right. HB 265 proponents, of which there are few outside of the prosecutor's office, like to point to the federal system as the reason why Ohio should change its laws. One might argue that this rule is necessary on the federal level because federal judges have lifetime tenure. Thus, if you are a prosecutor with a case involving a gun charge and you don't like how a particular judge deals with gun cases, you might want the option of going to the jury. However, that argument doesn't work as well in a state like Ohio where judges do not have lifetime tenure and regularly face reelection.
Yes, if Texas State Representative Dennis Bonnen has his way. Rep. Bonnen is the author of HB 1633, a bill requiring that state jurors be able to read and write in English. Rep. Bonnen claims that his legislation, which is already the law in 37 other states, is "common sense."
Others, like State Representative Roberto Alonzo, believe that this legislation is going to be a way of keeping Hispanics off of a jury. This will be a hidden opportunity to strike jurors because of race." Finally, another group sees the issue as purely symbolic because jurors must already know how to read or write. For this last group, adding the word English does little to change the current law.
By way of comparison, a person cannot serve on a federal jury if he/she:
(1) is not a citizen of the United States eighteen years old who has resided for a period of one year within the judicial district;
(2) is unable to read, write, and understand the English language with a degree of proficiency sufficient to fill out satisfactorily the juror qualification form;
(3) is unable to speak the English language;
(4) is incapable, by reason of mental or physical infirmity, to render satisfactory jury service; or
(5) has a charge pending against him for the commission of, or has been convicted in a State or Federal court of record of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year and his civil rights have not been restored.
For more information on HB 1633 see the article below.
The article below, appearing in this month's California Bar Journal, examines the Expedited Jury Trials Act (AB 2284). This pending legislation would allow the state to offer expedited civil jury trials in cases where the damages are between $10,000 and $30,000. Similar trials have been used in both New York and South Carolina.
Treated as regular civil trials, cases would be heard — on a date certain — before a judge and a jury of eight. Each side is limited to three peremptory challenges and must put on their case in three hours, including opening and closing arguments, with a goal of concluding the case in one day. Participation is voluntary, verdicts — reached by six jurors — are binding, and appeals and post-trial motions are strictly limited.
The standard rules of evidence would normally apply, but the parties could agree to relaxed rules. Witness lists, exhibits, proposed jury verdict forms, juror questionnaires and other materials are exchanged 25 days prior to trial. Evidentiary objections will be addressed at a pretrial conference, eliminating disputes during trial.
A key element is the high/low agreement by both plaintiff and defense: The plaintiff is guaranteed some recovery and the defense’s liability is capped. From the plaintiff’s point of view, he receives some money, even if the jury decides he is entitled to nothing. On the defense side, the high may be the insurance policy limit or less. Insurance carriers avoid excessive judgments and bad faith claims, and a defendant’s individual liability also is resolved. The high/low agreement is not disclosed to the jury.
Proponents of expedited trials believe cases where relatively small amounts of money — between $10,000 and $30,000 — are involved are most likely to go to quick trials. Relatively simple matters, such as small personal injury, slip-and-falls or small auto accidents, are prime candidates...to continue reading go here.
The Louisiana state legislature is taking the first steps to prevent the practice of publishing the names of jurors and potential jurors in the newspaper in state cases. Last week, the Louisiana House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice voted in favor of legislation which would prohibit the publication of juror names. Those speaking on behalf of the legislation argued that the current practice served no useful purpose and compromised juror safety. Those opposing the new legislation argued (unsuccessfully) that publishing the names preserves the integrity of the criminal justice process.
According to the article below, a Virginia Senate Committee just approved legislation to require that jurors show identification upon request. The bill's sponsor, Republican Sen. Mark Obenshain says that this legislation is necessary because there is the possibility that the juror could be "scamming" the system.
Citing potential savings in the tens of thousands of dollars, the state’s jury commissioner says a pair of bills advancing in the House would help modernize the way the state interacts with prospective jurors...to continue reading go here.