Part 1 of 4
The thought of serving as a jury member evokes varying reactions from different citizens. Some consider it a patriotic honor. They say it's part of the responsibility of being an American and living in a free country.
Others feel it's an intrusive obligation which costs them time and money and they'll do anything possible to get out of it. A few go so far as to not vote because they know that jury names are selected from voter registration records and they don't want to run the risk of being called.
There are legitimate concerns with the process of jury selection and the inconvenience the duty poses to the citizens.
Aware of this, Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard, took action to try to improve the process.
In 1997, Shepard heard Arizona attorney Michael Dann speak on jury reform at an American Bar Association meeting. On his return to Indiana, Shepard asked Clay County Circuit Court Judge Ernest Yelton to chair a Judicial Administration Committee and perform a similar study on jury reform in Indiana.
For two years the committee put Indiana's jury system under the microscope. They dissected it, then surveyed all Indiana judges to learn what were existing problems, what appeared to work and what changes were needed.
The Judicial Administrative Committee authored a federal grant which provided a quarter of a million dollars to fund the research. A survey of judges had an extremely high, 85 percent return rate.
At the same time, the committee worked in collaboration with the "Citizens Commission for the Future of Indiana Courts". That group was doing a similar study but focused primarily on lay people, jurors, businesses and people not related to the law.
"Once the results were tabulated," Judge Yelton explained, "our committee took a look at each segment of the jury experience.
"We came up with ultimate recommendations on what we believed was appropriate methods by which a jury is selected, how the jury is handled during a trial and what we, the judges, could do to better assist the jury in the decision making process."
The committee invited other legal associations to give input. They included the Indiana Bar Association, Indiana Trial Lawyers, Indiana Defense Bar, Prosecuting Attorney Council and the Indiana Public Defenders Office.
"Early in the process with the legal associations we saw that the approach by these groups was by the, 'what's in it for me' approach," Yelton said. "They wanted jury reform that would best benefit their interest. We strongly felt that jurors had no advocate. So our committee accepted that role."
After two years the committee submitted their written report to the Committee on the Future of Indiana Courts. They, in turn, added to it and published their final report in January 2000, hoping to spawn a more effective jury selection process.
The process of creating or changing legal rules rests with the Superior Court of Indiana. They have a Rules Committee who investigates if any rules need changed.
As standard procedure, the Indiana Supreme Court offered the Judicial Administration Committee's report to the Rules Committee.
After a year and a half review, the Rules Committee recommended that the Supreme Court do nothing. They believed that the report was controversial and didn't feel comfortable making a recommendation for changes.
The Supreme Court, however, disagreed. They thought that with all of the time and money put into the effort they needed to look at the rules and recommendations.
So the Supreme Court reviewed the material and made some changes in the jury selection process.
The Supreme Court promulgated 30 jury rules which took effect Jan. 1, 2003.
Tomorrow: Indiana's Jury Rules