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Jury Service

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Yesterday, the East Valley Tribune editorial department wrote an opinion piece addressing a recent challenge to Maricopa County jury selection procedures adopted in February of this year. Recently, the Maricopa County judiciary modified its jury selection procedures to make it more likely for jurors to be chosen for service at a court within a close geographic proximity to their home. Court administrators thought that this change would encourage more jurors to serve.

It seems that unintended consequences of such modification to the random selection system exist. Traditionally, the jury selection system required random county-wide selection of prospective jurors. Some attorneys suggest that by narrowing down the jury pool to certain zip codes truly narrows the scope and randomness of jury selection procedures.

Which pool of prospective jurors do you think will lead to a more random and appropriate cross-section of jury members: jurors from within the entire Metropolitan Phoenix area or jurors from within a few miles of the Mesa City courthouse? Some attorneys argue that jury values, norms, perspectives and character vary based upon geographic location and that choices among the entire metropolitan area allows lawyers to empanel a true and impartial cross-section of prospective jurors.

The East Valley Tribune apparently thinks that where a prospective juror resides does not matter to the random jury selection process. The editorial board suggests that a juror has the same bias, predisposition, or prejudice no matter where he or she lives. Moreover, the Tribune believes that attorneys can protect impartiality by removing any jurors from a panel based upon suspicions about jury impartiality.

While the East Valley Tribune may make some interesting points, today judges rarely let lawyers conduct thorough jury questioning to determine the extent of any potential bias or prejudice and to assist the lawyer in striking potentially bias jurors. The process of jury selection called “voir dire” has been severely eroded over the years in Maricopa County. In order to be thorough and select a truly non-bias jury, the process of jury selection often requires several hours or even days to complete. However, more and more judges restrict the lawyers’ ability to ask comprehensive follow-up questions and submit prospective jury panel questionairres. In my opinion, the net result severely limits the ability of a lawyer to protect jury impartiality. Thus the East Valley Tribune has it wrong when it suggests that lawyers can simply challenge prospective jurors with or without reason during the jury selection process. A lawyer can only use a few jury challenges called peremptory challenges to act upon a suspicion of impartiality. These types of challenges can be exercised without cause, meaning for no reason. However, because these challenges are limited in scope and still require thorough questioning or “voir dire,” they are not completely effective. I believe that a broad-based jury pool chosen randomly from among the entire county population prevents the jury-selection process from deteriorating into an unmanageable crisis. I also believe that Jurors selected for service who live far away from the Court can be easily exused before reporting for duty to prevent the circumstances highlighted by the Tribune. I firmly believe far more difficulties exist empaneling jurors who may not necessarily represent a true cross-section of our metropolitan community because they live closer to the courthouse than the minor problems which may exist by requiring a longer commute to the courthouse. For this reason I applaud the Maricopa County Superior Court temporary decision to halt the new jury selection system as of August 14. It remains to be seen if the judge assigned to review the jury selection procedures agrees that somebody’s geographic location may be suggestive of his or her bias, prejudices and predisposition on important issues. What do you think?