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Creating Representative Juries: An Exploration of Barriers in St. Louis County, Minnesota

The St. Louis County Public Defender’s Office, in partnership with the Sixth Judicial District Court, sought to identify issues affecting the right to a representative jury in St. Louis County, Minnesota. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the National Center for State Courts, and RTI International worked with these Minnesota stakeholders to understand the challenges the county faces with attaining diverse juries. This report presents findings from jury assessments and focus groups on the issue of jury representativeness. 

Jury Assessment

Minnesota Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) provided aggregate reports on the self-reported race and ethnicity of prospective jurors who responded to their jury summonses in 2019. The information obtained indicated that Blacks, Native Americans, Asians, and Hispanics, all of whom reflect a small proportion of the jury-eligible population in Duluth, were significantly underrepresented in the jury pool data. 

The team found that the Minnesota AOC would benefit from improving their ability to extract data, including individual juror-level data, from the jury automation system and using those data to more accurately explore the racial and ethnic composition of the jury pool and factors that may contribute to underrepresentation of distinctive groups in the community.

Improving data collection efforts to better identify the demographic characteristics of (1) those summoned for jury duty whose summonses are returned as undeliverable and (2) those who are disqualified, excused, or fail to appear would assist the county in understanding whether a disproportionate number of citizens in a given demographic group are being excluded from jury service for these reasons. Additionally, an independent evaluator could be useful to assess the jury system, identify areas for improvement, and provide data-informed recommendations.

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Focus Groups

Interviews and focus groups were conducted from March to September of 2021, with 21 individuals, including current and former prosecutors, public defenders, and judges (criminal legal system actors); members from underrepresented groups (St. Louis community members); and Minnesota court administrators. Interview questions focused on perceptions of jury representativeness in St. Louis County, knowledge of the jury selection process, factors that reduce summons response rates, strategies to improve response rates, perceptions of jury management and juror experience, the voir dire process, ideas to increase representativeness, and needed changes in the St. Louis County legal system.

Outside of court administrators, most focus group participants were not fully aware of how lists of potential jurors are compiled. More awareness, education, and transparency regarding this process would be beneficial to all.

Most system actors believe that the current issues with jury representativeness occur at the initial pool level and with who is summoned, rather than with who ends up getting selected. However, court administrators noted that a commercial vendor is used to generate accurate addresses before summonses are mailed, and that most challenges occur because citizens have not properly updated addresses by either notifying the post office, updating their driver’s license, or registering to vote.

Once received, commonly cited reasons by the focus group members as to why jury service is difficult, and why a summons may go unanswered, included the following:

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  • Prospective jurors are unable to get time off work.
  • Employers do not compensate employees for jury duty.
  • Childcare is unavailable or too expensive.
  • The per diem for jury service ($20) is considered low.
  • Transportation is an obstacle.
  • Prospective jurors have privacy concerns.

Further, community member interactions with the legal system, including with law enforcement, may contribute to the overall distrust and dissatisfaction some feel toward the system generally, resulting in a reluctance to have any involvement with it. People of color and members of the Indigenous community may also hold more negative opinions of police and the legal system in general, increasing the likelihood they will be removed from the jury pool even when willing to serve on a jury. Individuals who express having specific, positive experiences with law enforcement rarely have similar consequences.

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State-Level Recommendations

  1. Use as many source lists as necessary to achieve inclusiveness at or near 100%.
  2. Expand eligibility to include permanent resident noncitizens.
  3. Increase language access.
  4. Work with a National Change of Address (NCOA) Provider31 to ensure that the address information used is as up to date as possible, and provide opportunities to update addresses more frequently.
  5. Send reminder postcards to prospective jurors.
  6. Increase juror pay and decrease length of service.
  7. Revise the voir dire process and limit the discriminatory use of peremptory challenges.
  8. Collect racial data at all stages at which a prospective juror may drop off.
  9. Engage in community-focused education and outreach.

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