A juror is more than their zip code



Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1875 to eliminate racial discrimination in jury selection. People of color continue to be excluded from jury service because of their race, especially in serious criminal trials and death penalty cases. In the state of California however, we are seeing a steady increase in minority representation in voir dire. The interesting thing is, attorneys and those involved in selecting juries are still stuck in old mind sets about how they are making choices in voir dire, how they perceive jurors make decisions and who is showing up in the courtroom to serve.

This week, I was asked to consider sitting on a legal panel focused on employment law in a county just south of where I reside in California. While discussing the details, the clerk, who apparently was charged with recruiting people for the panel stressed the importance of those on the panel needing to have “experience working a case in X county” and who has had “experience with X county juries”. So, I was summarily told “thanks but no thanks” since I had limited in court time in this particular county. That got me thinking, are we still of the mindset that the majority people’s beliefs, biases and perceptions are driven by the region in which they live? If so then are we being misguided by these generalizations?

I take myself as a case study; a Hispanic/African-American raised by a single mother in a low-income community in  Denver, Colorado. I then moved and lived in various cities across the state of California as well as NY and FL for short periods of time. I spent four years as a single mother myself. I now have multiple graduate degrees, am married to a White man,  and I live in an upper mid-class neighborhood. So, when I come to jury duty, do I represent the community or county where I live? Not at all, do I “think” in the same way others do from my community? Probably not. My life experiences are likely very different from many of those who were raised or grew up where I reside now. My guess is this is the case for many jurors in most jurisdictions. The thing is I might fool you, I am educated, articulate and seem like I could have been raised in the community where I now live, but my life experiences and upbringing inform my position and perceptions and biases much more than the region in which I live.

I think attorneys need to be cautious; a juror is more than their zip code. In this day and age people are coming from so many different walks of life you really need to take each juror as an individual, because if you don’t your “county profile” may mislead you into picking a juror you make wrong assumptions about and that just might work against you. Just because you have worked with a jury in X county doesn’t mean the next jury or jurors in that jurisdiction will behave in a similar fashion the next time you go to court.

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