Courtwatching Project Shows Trends Hold in Champaign County Juries
A sixth year of courtwatching in Champaign County has shed new light on predominantly white and female juries.
The statistics released Thursday by the County's League of Woman Voters and University of Illinois College of Law show that a woman is 1.5 times more likely to serve on a jury than a man.
The analysis of courtroom proceedings also showed the odds of seating a white juror are nearly four times greater than having an African-American or other minority on the jury. U of I Law Professor Steve Beckett said he hopes new questionnaires and public service announcements will improve those results, but he said their efforts can only go so far.
"We have to make the decision that the courts don't belong to the judges, and the administrators, and the attorneys, and the state's attorney - they belong to the people," Beckett said. "So long as the people are satisfied by not coming to jury duty then you're not going to have diversity in your court system. When the community decides that it's going to live up to its civic responsibility and come to court, then you will have diversity."
Beckett admitted one problem is the $10 a day per diem given to jurors. He said many who are self-employed cannot afford to sit on a jury. Beckett, who is a Democratic County Board member, also pointed out that the county cannot afford to pay any more right now.
Joan Miller chairs the League of Women Voters Justice Committee. She said the imbalance of women-to-men serving on juries is a national problem, but said Champaign County may be one of the few areas trying to do something about it. Her group has prepared new public service announcements aimed primarily at young people, with hopes they will demystify the experience of serving on a jury.
"Think about what it's like for a young person who's never had experience with the courts," Miller said. "Or maybe he has to walk into the courthouse and into a courtroom and we're hoping some of these will make it less stressful to respond to jury summons."
The County Board operates an advisory committee on jury selection, seeking ways to boost minority participation. Beckett pointed out that the new juror questionnaire is being prepared by a judge, the circuit clerk, state's attorney and public defender's office. He said the old survey asked if they any family members had been convicted of a crime, which he suspected may have deterred some people from serving on juries.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)