Harris County (Texas) Takes Steps to Improve Jury Diversity and Participation

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Harris County (Texas) Takes Steps to Improve Jury Diversity and Participation

After polling nearly 2,000 Harris County (Texas) residents, the county court clerk has instituted “The Stand for Justice” campaign to make it easier for citizens to participate in jury duty.  Reform efforts include increasing juror compensation, covering expenses such as parking, pre-registering for jury duty using an e-jury system, and investing in social media to encourage jury participation.

Want to Be on a Civil Grand Jury?

Stanislaus County (California) is soliciting applications from residents interested in serving on a civil grand jury during fiscal year 2021-2022.  The public service announcement states, “All persons who qualify to serve on the grand jury will be interviewed by a panel designated by the Presiding Judge. From those interviewed, Judge Robert Westbrook, Presiding Judge of the Superior Court, will select 30 finalists from which the 19-member Civil Grand Jury panel and six alternates are selected by random drawing.”

Federal Circuit Strikes Law Closing the Public from Jury Trials Against Teenagers

In a lawsuit filed by the Hartford Courant newspaper, two courts have ruled the law violates the First Amendment right of access to criminal prosecutions of teens.  “Closed trials breed suspicion of prejudice and arbitrariness, which in turn spawns disrespect for law. Public access is essential, therefore, if trial adjudication is to achieve the objective of maintaining public confidence in the administration of justice," wrote the 1st Circuit Federal Appeals Court in the latest ruling.

Does Prosecutor’s Voir Dire Spreadsheet Noting Race and Gender of Venire Members = Batson Violation?

In Broadnax v. Lumpkin, the prosecutor used his peremptories to strike all prospective Black jurors and one Hispanic.  The defendant’s Batson challenges were denied except for one.  Years later the defense discovered the Dallas County DA’s Office withheld a form it used to prepare for voir dire that notes the race and gender of venire members and bolds the names of prospective black jurors.  In a habeas corpus review, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit found the newly discovered evidence would not have led to a different ruling on defendant’s Batson claims.  “The prosecution was still required to—and did—provide racially neutral reasons for each of the strikes. The spreadsheet alone is no smoking gun; it fails to render all those reasons merely pretextual. Moreover, the district court observed that the Dallas County District Attorney's Office has twice been criticized by the United States Supreme Court for the use of racially discriminatory peremptory strikes.  (Citation omitted.) The office would have had considerable motivation to identify which jury venire members belonged to a protected class when preparing to defend its use of peremptory challenges.”

Imagine a Trial Where Jurors Are Also the Judges

Stop imagining.  It is happening in the U.S. Senate impeachment trial this week and next.  The Hill magazine’s John Kruzel concisely writes about five ways the impeachment trial differs from a court trial.