What We Do

Our Mission

JuryCheck aims to pioneer data-driven criminal justice reform in an effort to combat underrepresentation of minorities on jury pools in criminal trials. We seek to enable access to jury demographic information and increase transparency in this area. This will allow for a more effective vindication of an individuals's constitutional rights and lay the ground for systematic reform of affected stages of jury selection procedures.

Background Information

The Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants the right to be tried by a jury of their peers that represents a fair demographic cross-section of the community. Courts have been striving to enforce this right for almost forty years and yet the criminal justice system is still plagued with racial disparities at all levels of the jury selection process. In some jurisdictions, as many of 80% of criminal trials proceed with no minority representation on the jury.1 Such disparities undermine the legitimacy of the justice system by reducing public confidence in the fairness of criminal convictions.2 Just as importantly, the race of potential jurors plays a significant role in the outcome of criminal trials. A Duke University study demonstrated that all-white juries are 16% more likely to convict a black defendant than a white one, even when controlling for other factors.3 The presence of even one black potential juror in the venire completely equalizes the disparity in conviction rates between black and white defendants - and the effect holds true even if the jury pool member is not selected for service on the final twelve-member panel. Further, all-white juries are 29% more likely to impose the death penalty on black defendants than juries with a single black male juror.7 For defendants in the 31 states that still practice capital punishment, fairness in jury composition can literally be a matter of life or death.

Negligence by court officials is a leading cause of racial disparities in jury pools.4 In many instances, clerical and technological errors lead to large swaths of the population being excluded from the list of potential jurors. For example, in Connecticut, the county clerk’s office used a program that truncated the location field of the potential juror database to seven characters, causing the computer system to misread the eighth character as the jurors’ status.5 This meant that for nearly two years, the residents of Hartford County - who were largely African American - were mistakenly excluded from service because the computer interpreted the “d” in Hartford to mean “deceased.” Nonsystematic errors can also lead to racial disparities in jury pools. Sources of nonsystematic errors include generating potential juror lists from only one source, such as registered voters, and infrequently updating the mailing addresses of potential jurors.

These problems go largely undetected because burden rests on criminal defendants to call attention to the disparities in their venires. There are both high informational and legal barriers to the success of these challenges. Specifically, public defender offices, who are frequently strapped for resources, often lack the time and resources to litigate jury composition consistently enough to create permanent change in the way jury pools are created. Defenders and other criminal justice reform advocates also lack access long term to identify systematic deficiencies in the selection of jury pools.

The informational and technological nature of these problems makes them an ideal candidate for a technology-based solution. By providing the resources necessary to track underrepresentation with very little information gathering or analysis, we seek to make detection of disparities easier so that they can be frequently challenged in court. Defendants can also make prima facie challenges to jury selection practices based on trends of disparities in a jurisdiction, meaning that JuryCheck will become an even more powerful tool over time.

The public availability of the data should also be useful to criminal justice reform advocates, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Marshall Project, who already do work focusing on jury composition. These groups will be able to monitor non-compliant jurisdictions and more effectively allocate resources to impact-litigation meant to remedy racial disparities.

Even when courts have denied fair cross-section claims of criminal defendants, some judges still took notice of disparities and demanded changes in their clerks’ practices6 - indicating that there will likely be judicial interest in the use of JuryCheck. Indeed, because disparities are largely the result of negligence, clerks are often in the best position to detect and remedy underrepresentation at the lowest cost. JuryCheck will facilitate early detection of disparities by providing courts with the tools to monitor the composition of their own jury pools when they are created and analyze trends in representation over time. Clerks and judges will also have access to the aggregate data from other jurisdictions, meaning that they will be able to identify jurisdictions that have similar statutory requirements for potential juror registries and experiment with their methods for increasing representation in their venires.

1. Systematic Negligence in Jury Operations: Why the Definition of Systematic Exclusion in Fair Cross Section Claims Must Be Expanded, Paula Hannaford-Agor, Drake Law Review (2011), 59 Drake L. Rev. 761.
2. United States v. Osorio, 801 F. Supp. 966 (D. Conn. 1992).
3. Wrong About the Right: How Courts Undermine the Fair Cross-SEction Guarantee by Confusing It with Equal Protection, Nina W. Chernoff, Hastings Law Jouranl (2012), 64 Hastings L.J. 141
4. Illegal Racial Discrimination in Jury Selection: A Continuing Legacy, Equal Justice Initiative (2010), available at http://eji.org/sites/default/files/illegal-racial-discrimination-in-jury-selection.pdf
5. Race, Diversity, and Jury Composition: Battering and Bolstering Legitimacy, Leslie Ellis & Shari Seidman Diamond, 78 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. 1033 (2003)
6. The Impact of Jury Race in Criminal Trials, Shamena Anwar, Patrick Bayer & Randi Hjalmarsson, Quarterly Journal of Economics (2011), available at http://repository.cmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1349&context=heinzworks
7. Death Sentencing in Black and White: An Empirical Analysis of the Role of Jurors’ Race and Jury Racial Composition, University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law (2001), 3 U. Pa. J. Const. L. 171