The Jury Sunshine Project: Jury Selection Data as a Political Issue
47 Pages Posted: 29 Jun 2017 Last revised: 7 Sep 2017
Date Written: June 28, 2017
Lawyers treat jury selection — no surprise here — as an issue to litigate. In this article, we stand outside the litigator’s role and look at jury selection from the viewpoint of citizens and voters. As citizens, we believe that the composition of juries in criminal cases deserves political debate outside the courtroom. Voters should use the jury selection habits of judges and prosecutors when deciding whether to re-elect the incumbents to those offices. More generally, jury composition offers a stress test for the overall health of local criminal justice. Conditions are unhealthy when the full-time professionals of criminal justice build juries that exclude parts of the local community, particularly when they exclude members of traditionally marginalized groups such as racial minorities. Every sector of society should participate in the administration of criminal justice.
This political problem starts as a public records problem. As we discuss in Part I of this article, limited public access to court data reinforces the single-case focus of the legal doctrines related to jury selection. Poor access to records is the single largest reason why jury selection cannot break out of the litigator’s framework to become a normal topic for political debate. As we describe in Part II, we worked with dozens of students, librarians, and court personnel to collect jury selection documents from individual case files and assembled them into a single database, which we call “The Jury Sunshine Project.” In Part III, we present some initial findings from the Jury Sunshine Project to illustrate how public data might generate political debate beyond the courtroom. Part IV explores the possible explanations for the racial patterns that we observed in jury selection. Some accounts of this data point to benign non-racial factors as the real explanation for the patterns we observed. Finally, in Part V we generalize from our data about the race of jurors to ask more generally how accessible public records could transform criminal justice.
Keywords: Jury Selection, State Courts, Criminal Trials, Empirical
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