In our opinion: Expanding jury duty pool is a good thing

Published: Friday, Jan. 3 2014 9:35 a.m. MST

More citizens participating in the judicial system makes that system more representative of the larger society, more reflective of social mores and as a result, a healthier system overall.

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Being summoned to serve on a jury is one of the most important callings of citizenship in this country, and efforts to expand the pool of available jurors in Utah are a good step for several reasons. It will reduce the level of the commitment for some people while allowing others to pursue the opportunity for such service.

Jury duty should be viewed as an opportunity, not a burden. The judicial system relies on citizens to ensure that justice is rendered and a defendant given a fair trial. Jury service may be inconvenient, but it is essential to the functioning of a free society.

A new rule that takes effect this year would theoretically reduce the number of times certain people are called upon for duty, and by doing that should lead court personnel to expand the pool of potential jurors. The measure was sponsored in the last legislative session by Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, who told The Deseret News: “I’ve heard stories of people getting called over and over again and some people never being called for jury duty. (With this) more will be given the opportunity.”

Although few people are exempt from being called to jury duty, the pool of prospective jurors typically is compiled from driver license and voter registration records. But not all citizens are registered to vote at any given time, and driver license records may not reveal accurate contact information. As a result, jury summonses have tended to go to a smaller class of people who are voters living at the address reflected on their driver license.

Under the new rule, courts cannot require people to serve on juries more than once in a two-year period. That rule already was in place, but the old rule defined jury service as having actually served on a jury, or making it at least through the procedural steps leading up to being impaneled. Now, simply complying with a summons, even if only by telephone, satisfies the requirement of service. “Your name would be set aside for two years even if you don’t actually show up for jury service but you have called in as directed in the summons and you are simply not needed,” said Tim Shea, senior staff attorney for the Utah State courts.

Court officials believe the new rule will require administrators to pursue innovative ways to, as Shea puts it, “spread the obligation as broadly as possible.”

And it only makes sense that such duty is spread broadly. More citizens participating in the judicial system makes that system more representative of the larger society, more reflective of social mores and as a result, a healthier system overall.

Just like the opportunity to cast a ballot, the opportunity to serve on a jury gives a citizen a stake in an important process, and both processes work best when open to the widest possible participation.

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