Connecticut has a new law (Public Act 08-103) taking effect later this year that will modify how its citizens serve on juries (for more background information on CT jury laws go here). Starting 1 October, CT residents who have previously served at least one day of jury duty will automatically be exempted from serving for the next three years, unless they specifically opt-in to the summoning process.
This idea of opt-in jury service raises several interesting issues. First, will this deprive defendants of their 6th Amendment right to an impartial jury. An impartial jury generally means one chosen from a cross section of the community. For example, in Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U. S. 522 (1975) the Supreme Court Court stated that "[t]he purpose of a jury is to guard against the exercise of arbitrary power to make available the common sense judgment of the community as a hedge against the overzealous or mistaken prosecutor....This prophylactic vehicle is not provided if the jury pool is made up of only special segments of the populace."
Arguably, this is exactly what CT is doing. Rather than rely on random selection it is allowing individuals to approach the state to perform jury service, which is fine if a cross-section of the community volunteers. However, that scenario is unlikely. Instead, it is much more likely that only certain individuals from society will volunteer, e.g., retirees or those who are unemployed, which also brings me to my second point. Will these volunteers make better jurors?
As previously discussed, there are numerous pros and cons to having voluntary rather than mandatory jury service. One aspect that I did not touch upon in the last post is whether those who volunteer will be more biased. While some people view jury service as a civic responsibility, others see it as an opportunity to right a wrong and or gain publicity from being associated with some high profile case. Thus, I am led to wonder whether we need a heightened voir dire standard for those who volunteer.