Is being summoned for jury duty random?
December 21, 2004 6:22 AM   Subscribe

In the US, is being summoned for jury duty really a random process? [More Inside]

I've had two odd experiences:

1) When I was a student in Massachusetts, I was still a resident of New Jersey. While I was at school, I got called up for jury duty in NJ. As an out of state student it was pretty easy to get excused. Less than a month later I was called up in Massachusetts and ended up serving.

2)Around a year ago I got called up in Michigan. I sent back my questionnaire, showed up on time, got on a jury and did my time. About a month later my wife (same last name, same address) got called up (she was excused for health reasons).

In both cases all the courts involved were local county courts, no federal district, grand jury, etc. Am I just a statistical oddity or is there something else here?
posted by PinkStainlessTail to Law & Government (22 answers total)
I was wondering the same thing the other day. When I was a student in Massachusetts -- I had just registered to vote here -- I was called for jury duty. I served, knowing that I'd be hanging around after graduation. Several months ago, I was called for jury duty in New York, where I lived until I went to college (seven years ago), but since I no longer live there, I didn't serve. And just last week, I was again called for duty in Massachusetts (only four years after I previously served). No one I know has been called quite so many times, so I'm fairly certain that someone has it out for me.

Of course, they all assure me that the selection is completely random.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:07 AM on December 21, 2004

I have also wondered about this.

Both of my parents and I have been called THRICE in michigan. I know tons of people who have never been called.
posted by adamkempa at 7:11 AM on December 21, 2004

I know someone that served on a grand jury and was told that he would most likely be called again at the same time the next year to serve on the grand jury again. I guess grand jury selection is not completely random?
posted by trey at 7:17 AM on December 21, 2004

Massachusetts churns through jurors because they use the "One Juror, One Day" system -- you only have to sit in the juror holding room for one day unless you get tabbed for a trial. Many other places still make you sit in the pool for up to a week.
posted by briank at 7:20 AM on December 21, 2004

I've wondered this myself; after establishing citizenship I've *never* been called for jury duty, while other people I know have been called several times in the past few years. I'm registered to vote & everything, but I never get called.

Somehow it bugs me, but I'm not sure why.
posted by aramaic at 7:29 AM on December 21, 2004

Yes, it's a random process. Are you a statistical oddity? I don't think so. Your anecdotes don't seem noteworthy. If you live another few decades, you'll find those hardly rise to the level of coincidence.
posted by cribcage at 7:30 AM on December 21, 2004

if there's a million people, say, and 1% of that number are picked at random, allowing for the same person to be picked more than once, then you'd expect about 10,000 people to be picked once, but also around 100 people to be picked twice, and someone will probably be picked three times.

i guess there's more than a million people in MA, and that more than 1% of people are picked at some point in their life (especially given the info above about the system used), so being picked three times isn't that surprising.

(i'm not 100% confident in my stats here, but i think that's about right).
posted by andrew cooke at 7:53 AM on December 21, 2004

I've been called 5 times in my 11 years of eligibility, only twice since the jury system here went to a "one day" setup. My first two times were when I was away at school in Virginia (I'm from California). I have never actually served on a jury.
posted by LionIndex at 8:03 AM on December 21, 2004

My last jury summons emphasized the point that each year is independent and that being called this year has no effect on being called next year.
posted by smackfu at 8:34 AM on December 21, 2004

I was called once, in New Mexico, after I had moved away, so I was excused. I haven't been called in Illinois, yet, though I'd really like to be on a jury. Or a grand jury.

/me watches too much Law and Order

I only remember each of my parents being called once, I think, when I was growing up.
posted by sugarfish at 8:43 AM on December 21, 2004

The only correlation I've noticed is when I move and re-register to vote, I am subsequently called for jury duty within three to six months. It's happened enough times and someone I know tested this theory with subtle but deliberate misspellings of his/her name on his/her voter registration, street names, using "Apt. 7A" instead of "Apt. 7" and in each case the jury summons came back with the same inaccuracies.
posted by fandango_matt at 8:45 AM on December 21, 2004

I worked in the district courts for the state of Minnesota, and to the best of my knowledge, juror pools there were assembled from voting rolls and driving registration records.

So jury selection is not an entirely random process. In Minnesota's case, it favors the politically engaged and those who drive, which I presume leaves out the poor and other marginalized groups.

I would also guess, just in terms of accuracy, that people who move a lot are less likely to get called up than people who stay put. But I don't have anything to prove that.

Put the whole picture together, though, and I suspect that your average jury pool (venire, if you want the Latin) is going to be a little more affluent and a little less mobile than the population at large. Having watched jury selection more times than I care to recount, I think that actual juries usually shake down this way.

Caveat: This is only practice in Minnesota district court, so it could very well be different elsewhere.
posted by Scooter at 8:57 AM on December 21, 2004

In Washington, DC, I seem to get summoned within a few months of driver's-license related visits to the DMV. Of course the driver's license is pegged to motor/voter here, as it seems to be everywhere.
posted by coelecanth at 9:43 AM on December 21, 2004

This is all observation bias (except maybe for fandango_matt's friend--and that may be something confined to that locality, as it has never happened to me when I've moved and re-registered).

Massachusetts churns through jurors like crazy, because of the "one day/one trial" system cited above. Almost everyone I know in Mass. has served jury duty at least once (including me), and I know several people who have served twice (including my Dad and my former boss), and two people who have served three times (my late aunt and the husband of a former co-worker).
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:49 AM on December 21, 2004

California uses a "one day" system as well, and I receive a summons every. single. year. without fail. I think most people I know who are rarely summoned also have few to no interactions with the DMV and its Motor Voter program. There's obviously some correlation between DMV interaction and the summons, although I couldn't tell you how strong the correlation is.

Some courts are a little overzealous about summoning jurors around here. Several of my co-workers are in the country on visas -- and thus ineligible to serve -- yet regularly receive a summons from the same courts again and again.

My employer provides full pay and benefits for the length of any and all jury service, with no limit, so I don't mind going.
posted by majick at 10:23 AM on December 21, 2004

I was recently called in Maryland, but was excused before having to show up. I was told that I had fulfilled my jury duty, and wouldn't be called for at least another three years.
posted by grateful at 11:15 AM on December 21, 2004

So when people - in the US - are called for Jury Duty, this doesn't mean they've even been interviewed by lawyers to see if they should sit on a Jury let alone served on a Jury? Weird. I had no idea.

I know nothing of the topic, but I'm guessing there must be a different system here in Canada because I've never heard of someone I know being called for Jury duty.
posted by raedyn at 11:22 AM on December 21, 2004

Raedyn: In the U.S. jury duty means you've been called to be part of the pool of possible jurors. You sit in a room. Sometimes, you get picked to be interviewed. Then you might be chosen. Often, you just spend a day sitting in a room.

The system might be different because as far as I understand, the U.S. has many many more jury trials than under other systems. You get a jury for trials that would just be in front of a judge in other countries.

As for me, I've been registered to vote in NY (but not with the DMV) for five years and never called. This suits me because I am the last person any lawyer is gonna want on her jury anyway.
posted by dame at 11:33 AM on December 21, 2004

I've been registered to vote in Illinois since 1991 but have never been called. My parents have been called, my sister has been called (she was a student out of the area so she was excused), but never me.
posted by SisterHavana at 11:51 AM on December 21, 2004

i'm not 100% confident in my stats here, but i think that's about right

Based on what I know from where I work, the chances of an adult being called for jury duty in an given year are somewhere on the order of 5% to 10%.* So in a state with 10 million adults, let's say that 500,000 are called in Year 1. In most states, you're only guaranteed not to serve more than once per year (in the same jurisdiction). So in Year 2, all 10 million (let's say) are eligible again. Of the 500,000 selected in year 2, 25,000 people will be selected again (that is, two years running). 5% of these people will be selected again in year 3. So in this hypothetical state, we have more than 1,000 people who have been selected three years in a row.

Which is why it would be fairer for those who report to jury duty to have a three or four-year exemption from serving again, as it seems is the case in Maryland.

* As noted in another comment, not all adults end up on the list of potential jurors - only those who are in some database (drivers licenses and voters registration are the most common). Also, a surprising large percentage of those who are called for jury duty simply ignore the summons (and never suffer any penalty), which raises the frequency of jury duty for those who do act as a good citizen.
posted by WestCoaster at 12:07 PM on December 21, 2004

I was called for jury duty twice while living in Southern California. Once I was released because of the length of the drive to the court (Thousand Oaks to Ventura). The other time I wasn't chosen to be on a jury although I was questioned (child molester who eventually copped a plea). I wasn't called while living in Texas or Washington.
posted by deborah at 1:25 PM on December 21, 2004

raedyn: the jury selection process is called voir dire (this is from a jury guide from Delaware County, PA, but fits with my experience in San Francisco).

I've been called for jury duty at least three times in the last (almost) 10 years, and served on two juries.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:30 PM on December 21, 2004

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