Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Understanding Juror Misconduct: Poor Juror Compensation May be One Factor

There has certainly been no dearth of cases where jurors have failed to follow the court's instructions as to Internet media and use of social media during trials.  There is a dearth, however, of social science research as to juror motivations for this misconduct.  I continue to look for social science commentary in this area with little success over the past couple of months.

An article in the Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Journal (Vol. 14: 31, 2004) entitled "Using Experimental Economics to Peek into the 'Black Box' of Jury Behavior: A Proposal for Jury Research Reform," while focusing on economic analysis of jury deliberations and outcomes, contains the following statements which confirm some of my own conclusions:

    Page 35  Another concern is the likelihood that jurors will put less than the appropriate amount   of effort in understanding and deciding a case...the fact that jury service is generally compelled by law, but compensated poorly, certainly provides a breeding ground for such apathy.  Add to that the modern notion that jury service is an unceremonious burden rather than a privilege, and one can see why a juror may feel less than inspired to devote herself to the case at hand. (emphasis supplied)

It troubles me that we judges and court administrators, due to budgetary challenges, have failed to even come close to compensating jurors for their service.  In Minnesota a few years ago the daily jury fee was reduced to $10 and mileage is paid at 27 cents or only about 1/2 of the federal rate.  After the months-long tobacco trial in federal court in MN several years ago it was reported that several of the jurors were compelled to file bankruptcy as a result of loss of income during the trial.  In the semi-rural county where I serve many of the jurors are not paid by their employers during jury service. Therefore, their service is a financial hardship to their families.

I found an article listing historical data on jury fees around the country.  Here is the daily rate in MN:
                                                                 In 2010 dollars
1869   $2 (142 years ago)                 $33
1907   $3                                          $71.80
1937   $4 (Depression-era)
1953   $6                                          $48.90
1989   $15                                        $26.40
2011   $10

Link to state jury fee survey:  http://www.matrixbookstore.biz/trial_jury.htm

Federal jurors are paid $40 daily plus mileage.

One step toward encouraging jurors to follow the judge's instructions would be to reasonably compensate them for their service and make service less of an outright hardship.  Will it be expensive?  Certainly.  Is it necessary? Absolutely!

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