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Jury: Legal Aspects - Assembling The Venire

federal list selection jurors

Until the 1960s, most state and federal courts employed a "key man" system in which jury commissioners or court clerks asked prominent citizens, politicians, or other "key men" to nominate prospective jurors. Officials then summoned jurors from the lists these "key men" had provided. Some states in New England and the South still retain this system, and although jury selection methods must satisfy the equal protection and "fair cross-section" requirements discussed below, the Supreme Court has held that the Constitution does not require random jury selection. The Court has upheld statutory requirements that court officials eliminate anyone found not "upright" and "intelligent" (Turner v. Fouche, 396 U.S. 346 (1970)), and that they summon only citizens who are "generally reputed to be honest and intelligent. . .and esteemed in the community for their integrity, good character and sound judgment" (Carter v. Jury Commission of Greene County, 396 U.S. 320 (1970)). The Federal Jury Selection and Service Act of 1968 ended the "key man" system in the federal courts, and the Uniform Jury Selection and Service Act proposed by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws in 1970 was largely modeled after the federal Act.

Most state courts now follow procedures similar to those mandated by the federal statute. In these jurisdictions, jury selection begins with a "source list." Under the federal act, the basic source list must be the list of registered or actual voters, but this list must be supplemented by others when it will not assure random jury selection from a fair cross-section of the community. Partly because racial minorities, young people, and the poor are less likely than others to register to vote, many jurisdictions use lists of driver's licenses and state identification cards to supplement (and sometimes replace) voter lists. Some jurisdictions also use city directories, tax rolls, and telephone books. No source list is likely to be entirely current, however, and because the members of some groups change addresses more frequently than others, even the best efforts to ensure representative jury panels through random selection from a source list may fall short.

Under the federal statute, at least one-half of 1 percent of the names on the source list are placed in a "master" jury wheel. A judge or court clerk draws names from this wheel as jurors are needed, and juror-qualification forms are sent to the people whose names are drawn. A judge then eliminates prospective jurors whose responses indicate that they are unqualified because (1) they are not citizens, (2) they are not eighteen, (3) they have not resided in the judicial district for at least one year, (4) they do not speak English or cannot read and write English well enough to complete the qualification form, (5) they are too mentally or physically infirm to serve, or (6) they are currently charged with a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year or have previously been convicted of such a crime and their civil rights have not been restored. Prospective jurors may claim occupational exemptions from jury service in their questionnaires and may claim that jury service would be a hardship. (A prospective juror also may claim that serving on a jury in a particular case would be burdensome at a later stage of the process.) The names of the qualified jurors who are not exempted or excused are placed in a second jury wheel, the "qualified" jury wheel. People whose names are drawn from this wheel receive jury summonses. Some jurisdictions make systematic efforts to enforce these summonses, but in many, the sanctions authorized for noncompliance are more theoretical than real.

People who respond to jury summonses are typically assigned to a jury pool and then directed from the pool to particular courtrooms for the trial of cases. Complaints about juror waiting time have led many jurisdictions to implement "one day, one trial" systems. In these systems, a juror is excused after serving on a single jury or after waiting for one day without being chosen. The panel of prospective jurors from which a jury is selected is called the venire.

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