Thursday, September 15, 2011

Vast majority of Midlanders skipping jury duty

I'm not sure I've ever heard of a county with such a radical problem getting people to show up for jury duty as in Midland, and wonder how the figures in this TV new story jibe with those from other counties:
Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter is shocked and dismayed to hear jury duty has fallen to the wayside for Midlanders.

Thousands of residents are skipping out on jury service and it's costing the county big.

Midland County admits they haven't implemented consequences for not showing up for jury duty in a few years, but now they're serious if you don't respond, you could end up at the county courthouse anyway.

"This is the worst problem with jurors not showing up for jury summons that I have ever seen in 25 years," said Midland Co. District Attorney Teresa Clingman.

This week alone, of 750 summons sent out only 149 people reported to the Midland County Courthouse Monday morning.

"75 percent of people fail to show up for jury duty, that is a constitutional right," said Sheriff Painter.
District judges said they will send a warning letter to those who didn't show up, but if that didn't work Sheriff Painter said "we will take summons in hand and we will go to every person's house that had a summons issued, go to their place of business, we'll snatch them up and we'll go to court."

What does it say about the system that so few folks show up for jury duty? Have attitudes changed since the rates were higher, and if so, how? Do Midlanders take the obligations of citizenship more lightly than in the past? Do folks think high conviction rates mean it doesn't matter whether they participate or not? Does there need to be more notice than a single letter mailed to prospective jurors? (Open rates for direct mail are notoriously low.) Is the low rate for juror pay a factor for people who lose wages when not at work? I find this datapoint particularly curious and surprising. What do you think is causing it? What strategies might fix it?

Imagine if 98+% of cases didn't result in plea bargains: The whole system would break down if defendants demanded jury trials at all more frequently.

UPDATE: From Texas Watchdog, "Jury duty stipends cut from $40 to $28 per day, $1.7 million savings for state of Texas." Further, "Letters from the state Comptroller went out in August reminding county courts that the robust $6 reimbursement for the first day of jury duty would not change."

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

I wrote a hot check almost twenty years ago (Class C misdemeanor) which forever barred me from jury duty.

I would actually like to serve, but apparently writing a hot check (one of only a small handful of misdemeanors that bar a person from jury duty) forever taints my judgement.

John David Galt said...

How likely do you think it is that a jury will convict someone for not reporting for jury duty? I'm sure most of them will wish they had done the same themselves.

Anonymous said...

People are "not adequate guardians of the interests of civilization in a world where everyone [...] is too busy for unutilitarian pursuits." That's the fundamental problem, the utility of jury duty is too remote (and alien) compared to the things that need to be done right now.

Anonymous said...

The Dallas Morning News ran a series of articles several years ago highlighting this problem in Dallas. The Dallas experience is quite similar to Midland's.

Anonymous said...

I have been away for 2 years, but several times prior when i was called the court rooms were full of potential jurors. I guess the circumstance has changed or maybe the prosecutors need a larger pool to cherry pick for convictions. They did have a real cool power point presentation.

ham2mtr

Angee said...

A woman in Denton went to jail for refusing to fill out her personal information. These documents usually remain in the file for anyone to see. I see that as one reason. And we have seen how jurors are treated if the public does not agree with their findings. Maybe people have also discovered that the "proof" that is presented in court is not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Juries have convicted many innocent people because the prosecution was slick and the court appointed attorney was just present. I don't want any part of it either.

jimbino said...

Article I, Section 4 of the Texas Constitution still requires of jurors "belief in a supreme being."

I simply tell the judge that there is no way in hell that I would support the Texas Constitution if selected for jury duty.

Anonymous said...

It's the economy, stupid. Who can afford to take a day away from their job only to be paid a paltry sum that doesn't pay for the gas, lunch, or parking meter fare. The pay has always intentionally been low to insure only those who are retired or middle class can serve. Another reason why we have so many African-Americans serving disproportionate sentences...

Angee said...

Who are you calling stupid? If someone has a decent job they don't want to give up time from work for a paltry $40 a day. For those that are unemployed $40 a day might not look so paltry. I agree that the economy pays a major part. Loss of faith in the system is also a major factor.
This is a discussion forum. You may be the smartest one in the group but name calling is unnecessary. It destroys your credibility.

Anonymous said...

I get called but never chosen. I’ve been told by several attorneys that it is because in the occupation blank I write in physicist.

The Fishing Physicist

RSO wife said...

I don't know where y'all served on a jury last, but the last time I went to jury duty in downtown Houston the pay was $9 and you can bet your last dollar that didn't pay for the parking, because it was $10.

I don't get picked for juries either because my husband is a convicted felon and of course that might make me biased in favor of a defendent. They say juries are made up of our peers but whose peers are they referring to anyway? Not mine, or my husband's, that's for sure.

Anonymous said...

I got called to a personal injury case where the attorney asked me what a vocational counselor was and what I did. After I pointed out I could interpret medical reports and set impariment rates. She said so you think your an expert. I said i don't know but since your firm has sent me several clients in the last month I must do something right. Again i didn't get picked.

Texas Maverick said...

750 summons? last time I went the room was full, panels for both big courts and jp courts were selected, at least 20 panels of 12 with 2 panels of 45 and we still had people left over. Sounds like overkill on the summons. Public records are notoriously out of date so probably needed to get address corrections not jurors. 44 cent stamp beats a person checking the records. Oh, and I want to move to the county that pays $40, mine provides parking if you don't mind walking.

MCMC said...

Angee, I really don't think that the comment made by 12:29 was an insult directed towards you or anyone here. "It's the economy, stupid" was one of Bill Clinton's campaign phrases back in the early 90s. It was hardly name calling and his/her recollection and use of an almost iconic and oft-repeated phrase raised credibility in my book.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

MCMC, that phrase actually came from James Carville, to be precise, but I agree it was a reference to that quote and not an insult to those here.

Anonymous said...

Lack of participation in the local jury selection is also indicative of lack of faith in the local judicial system in general.

Deborah said...

Listen anonymous, count yourself lucky that TDCJ did not lock you up for your "hot check", and you serve parole and then NINE years later, come back and revoke you for 'being out of the state of Texas without WRITTEN permission of a parole officer you were never assigned one after 2000! My husband has been in prison since June 10, 2009 for the EXACT same thing! They misclassified him on his travel card for "conspiracy to commit murder" and he is in their prison on a "hot check" he wrote back in 1988, for "theft by check" is what the TDCJ website says! Are they justified? NO That is how "cock-eyed" the Texas Criminal Justice System is!!!!!
We have TWO Section 2254's in the federal court at Houston (since Feb 2011) and ONE Section 1983 in the federal court at Austin, that we are pro se in. Tell me that this state has a good criminal justice system and it is not corrupted and I will just quietly go away! But I cannot find any "justice" in my husband being locked away for 2.5 years on a bad check, no way, no how! (He was originally sentenced to 15 yrs, because he had a bad youth record and a dishonest lawyer who 'plea bargained' his future away!)

Fed Up said...

How many times have you gone to juror duty and waited around an hour or two and found out the attorneys-defendant "worked out a deal"??? This is the main reason people don't show up for juror duty anymore. We have heard horror stories of some Judges putting folks in jail for being late or not showing up for juror duty. Do we really want to make the working folks into criminals for not showing up for juror duty?? Plus the majority of folks have no respect for attorneys and the whole legal system!!!

Deborah said...

Listen anonymous, count yourself lucky that TDCJ did not lock you up for your "hot check", and you serve parole and then NINE years later, come back and revoke you for 'being out of the state of Texas without WRITTEN permission of a parole officer you were never assigned one after 2000! My husband has been in prison since June 10, 2009 for the EXACT same thing! They misclassified him on his travel card for "conspiracy to commit murder" and he is in their prison on a "hot check" he wrote back in 1988, for "theft by check" is what the TDCJ website says! Are they justified? NO That is how "cock-eyed" the Texas Criminal Justice System is!!!!!
We have TWO Section 2254's in the federal court at Houston (since Feb 2011) and ONE Section 1983 in the federal court at Austin, that we are pro se in. Tell me that this state has a good criminal justice system and it is not corrupted and I will just quietly go away! But I cannot find any "justice" in my husband being locked away for 2.5 years on a bad check, no way, no how! (He was originally sentenced to 15 yrs, because he had a bad youth record and a dishonest lawyer who 'plea bargained' his future away!)

Deborah said...

oops! sorry I accidentally posted twice. I have always shown up for jury duty and have found it interesting who the lawyers chose and rejected. hmmmmm?

Angee said...

I apologize for my response to the "stupid" remark.
I was told that Tarrant County pays$ 40 a day.
All of those that get called and know there is a reason they won't get chosen should get a permanent exemption. It would be beneficial to everyone in the process.

Phillip Baker said...

Jury duty? I've been called over 20 times even though 1) I worked as med officer in the county jail that held theses guys2) Aside from that, being multi-degreed,have been told by attys they do NOT want very educated people- we think too much 3)Biggest issue? You get treated like an inmate. If it's such an "honor" to serve, why are you treated so badly? In Travis and Harris counties I found the court bailiffs to be routinely rude, overly aggressive, and unwilling to listen to you (Called for jury duty for guy I treated in jail, yet sat there till 4pm before being sent off. Big surprise.) 4)Who does not believe this "justice" system is not terribly broken? What is it, 90% of cases are pled out? Crt appt attys meet their "clients" 15 min before hearing, go over file quickly, and then "defend". But I finally got out of it all by answering that question about being in violation of any Texas law by stating my repeated violation of 2106 (look it up if you want). The clerk was wrecked. Ha! Haven't heard from the courts since. And honor to serve? BS!

Anonymous said...

I'm invited about every 18 mos. or so. I sit in the jury assembly room, I get herded thru crowded corridors by bored bailiffs who think they're comedians. I sit in a court room for voir dire, listening to overeager prosecutors and insipid defense lawyers, and even when I know one side or the other has struck me the judge keeps the prospective panel there for most or all of a business day, not releasing anyone until the 12 are picked. A couple of weeks later I get a check for $6...case closed, let the sheriff come for me.

Anonymous said...

What a bunch of whiney crybabies. You enjoy so many rights and privileges and blessings by being a citizen of this country and you are required to do almost nothing in return.
Jury duty is such a huge imposition?????? You are sooooo mistreated??--suck it up.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, I believe that your last paragraph holds the answer(s).

Mr. Casey O'Brien aka: jigmeister, former career prosecutor out of Harris County, summed it in his post retirement observation. "..there are three kinds of cases that go to trial with many exceptions; the very serious, the very solid & the very close. The other 95% pled out.

He failed to include the percentage that went to trial and ended up having the ADA & their counsel play plea bargain games at lunch.

Possible solutions would be to eliminate plea bargaining after the "Ready for Trial" notices are filed. Stop paying juries to perform civic duties (validate parking and lunch). Record voir dire proceedings, jury trials and jury rooms. Remove bully system from jury room (Foreman and those that tag team hold outs). Replace with a Juror Creed & Pledge (a work in progress). All 6 or 12 being equal and expected to read and sign both prior to performing civic duties.

Nothing good can come from retaliating and forcefully snatching 'no-shows', taking them to the courthouse and forcing them to participate in the game. It will backfire plus some if they fine or jail citizens.
Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking we should end plea bargaining altogether. If every case had to be tried there would not be enough resources to handle all the petty crap. So,prosecutors would be forced to focus on the serious stuff and then maybe the legilslature would stop making every little thing someone complains about a felony.

sunray's wench said...

I find all this very interesting. Here, jury duty is a legal requirement on an individual with very few exceptions. The prosecution and defence don't pick from a pool, the system sends out a jury summons to around 15 people per trial randomly picked from the register of voters. You get paid a small amount per day, I think more than Texans do, but certainly less than average wages here.

Anonymous said...

Seems a legitimate study might reveal solutions?

I do know that it is agravating to be summoned as a potential juror, be told to sit outside, then wait all day just to be told "we don't need you, we struck a plea bargain..." Surely prosecutors can get it together a little earlier than 5 minutes before trial?

john said...

Anyone working for an hourly wage is screwed on $6/day jury duty--it can cost more to park. I've heard people complain about the lost wages, because they usually have no way to schedule make-up time, or make-up comes at what would otherwise be OverTime Pay (e.g., weekends).
But now that companies are keeping people WELL-below 40 hours (to avoid OTP, ever), you already can't afford inflation.
Also keep in mind the low-wage earners often have no benefits, holiday or sick time they could substitute, etc.
Also, maybe the County could schedule better so there's not such a herd waiting so long to be chosen. Let the jury people come in later, when the courts actually start. A lot of court time is wasted so lawyers can run back and forth between multiple courts, doing a bad job for a larger number of clients, as if all at once. (When your case is finally called, your lawyer may be in another court!!)