The changing odds of jury duty

July 1, 2008 6:12:21 AM PDT
Starting this fall, the odds of being picked for jury service are likely to increase for some Pennsylvanians and decrease for others, Chief Justice Ronald Castille said Monday.

The state court system is compiling a statewide master list of prospective jurors based on voting records from the Department of State, tax records from the Department of Revenue, motor-vehicle data from the Department of Transportation and welfare records from the Department of Public Welfare under a state law signed last year.

Sub-lists for individual counties will be provided upon request starting in October or November.

"If you vote, pay taxes, drive or receive welfare or food stamps, your name will be on that list," Castille told a Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon at a Harrisburg hotel.

Currently, counties use different public records to identify residents eligible for jury duty, including voter-registration and driver's license lists. But those exclude people who do not vote or drive, often resulting in jury pools with a racial and gender makeup that does not reflect the county's population.

The law creating the expanded master list was designed to reduce such disparities - and enlarge jury pools. It stemmed from publicity several years ago about African-Americans being underrepresented on Allegheny County juries and a Supreme Court advisory panel's recommendations to increase diversity on juries.

"This way, we'll pinpoint jurors who have never been called for jury duty before," Castille said, adding that people already identified as eligible for jury service "won't be called as often."

Counties can replace their present juror-selection system with the state information, combine the two or ignore the state list altogether, said Art Heinz, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.

Raymond Billotte, district court administrator for Allegheny County, said the selection of prospective jurors remains under a 2004 order by the county's president judge that was designed to increase black representation in the jury pool.

"When that (state) list is available, we will take advantage of it," Billotte said Monday. "We need a better cross section of our community to draw from."