Part 2 of 4
Many Americans support the judicial system of a fair trial by a jury of their peers. Some think that serving on a jury is part of the responsibility of living in a free society.
Others don't necessarily disapprove of the system but don't want to serve on a jury. They think it's inconvenient, time consuming and may result in loss of income. Some citizens refuse to vote because jury lists are selected from voter registration records.
Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard knew of some of the problems with the jury process and jury selection. So, he established the Judicial Administration Committee in 1996 to study the jury selection process. He asked Clay Circuit Court Judge Ernest Yelton to chair the committee.
After nearly six years of research involving many legal and lay groups, the Judicial Administrative Committee sent their report to the Indiana Supreme Court which has the authority to create or change legal rules. The Supreme Court promulgated 30 rules or amendments to govern jury assembly, selection and management in all state courts effective Jan. 1, 2003.
The Supreme Court also established a standing committee Sept., 2002, to monitor the rules which Yelton was asked to chair.
Some of the rule changes are minor. Some are substantial. Yelton explained the major changes to The Brazil Times last week.
The rules govern petit jury assembly as opposed to a grand jury. One of the main changes was the source from which a jury pool is selected.
Jury selection previously came from just voter registration files. Now the selection source must be supplemented with names from at least one other list of persons who live in the county.
They may come from lists of utility customers, property taxpayers, persons filing income tax returns, motor vehicle registrations, city directories, telephone directories, and driver's licenses. Supplemental lists may not be substituted for the voter registration list.
Notice of selection for the jury pool is done by the two-tier notice and summons. The prospective juror is notified of pool selection, then is sent a summons at least one week prior to service.
A person who has completed a term of jury service in the year preceding the date of the person's summons may claim exemption from jury service. The individual may choose to serve again but is not required to do so. Only exemptions expressly provided by statute are permitted.
The judge may approve a deferral of jury service for up to one year upon a showing of undue hardship, extreme inconvenience or public necessity.
It is now required that jurors be given a written copy of instructions. They can read along while instructions are being read to them. Also, jurors may keep the written copy and refer back to it during the trial.
There has always been a law that jurors had a right to ask questions about the case while trying to reach a verdict. However, there was no law demanding that the judge inform the jurors of that right.
Judges were reluctant to tell this to the jurors because it could slow down trials considerably. Consequently, most jurors thought they had to make a decision on whatever information they had going into the jury room. They tried to make their decisions with limited information or understanding. It could cause a hung jury or perhaps a wrong verdict based on incomplete information.
Now judges have to inform the jurors that they have the right to ask questions during the decision-making process.
"One of the most significant rules for judicial efficiency," Yelton said, "is for the court to express to jurors, 'What can we do to help you?' More information can be given to jurors as long as it doesn't interfere with their perception and testimony of the witness."
Tomorrow: How jury selection and compensation is done in Clay County.