Turnout Skews Juries’ Makeup

Andrew Tilghman, Houston Chronicle, Mar. 6

Residents of Harris County’s predominantly white, affluent neighborhoods are up to seven times more likely to show up for jury duty than those in the county’s lower-income, mostly minority neighborhoods, a Chronicle study has found.

The low turnout from some pockets of the county skews the racial, cultural and economic makeup of the jury panels from which juries are chosen.

Compounded by the fact that many criminal defendants come from areas that have the lowest jury turnout, the disparity raises questions about whether the accused may be deprived of their constitutional right to a jury of their peers.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1975 that jury pools must reflect the surrounding community to ensure public confidence in the criminal justice system.

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Among the findings:

•While the average turnout for residents summoned to jury duty hovers around 17 percent, an examination of individual ZIP codes reveals turnout ranging from 5 percent to 35 percent.

•The 10 ZIP codes with the highest turnout, all exceeding 30 percent, are predominantly white, with a median annual income of $77,083.

•The 10 ZIP codes with the lowest turnout, all below 10 percent, have populations that are predominantly Hispanic or black. Those areas had a median income of $29,636.

•While predominantly black neighborhoods showed below-average turnout, the areas with the lowest jury participation were Hispanic.

•Jury summonses were sent out at an almost identical rate, relative to the district clerk’s master list of available jurors, compiled using names from voter-registration rolls and the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

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