Lancman Upset Over Jury Pools
By ROSS BARKAN
Jury pools in Queens do not accurately reflect the percentage of Hispanics or people who racially identify themselves as “Other” in the borough, according to a report released by the New York State Office of Court Administration.
A year-long data collection effort has revealed that African-Americans and Hispanics are under-represented in some State jury pools, leading local politicians and activists to question why some jurisdictions with large minority populations are not adequately represented.
The data makes me really wonder whether or not we are calling to jury duty people in Queens from the South Asian communities and many other diverse communities,” Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) said. “The bedrock principal of the justice system is right to trial by jury of one’s peers. The litigants in those cases may not be tried by jury of their peers with the same social, cultural, and economic points and references.”
Lancman, along with Assemblyman Hakeem Jefferies (D-Brooklyn) and State Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) introduced the Jury Pool Fair Representation Act that became law in 2010, requiring the recording of jury pool demographic data. The purpose, according to a statement from Lancman’s office, was to determine whether jurors in New York State represented a fair cross-section of the community.
Breaking down the representation by county, the report revealed that while Queens does not significantly under-represent its white or African-American populations, Hispanic and “Other” jury pool populations do not line up with 2010 Census data. Queens has a Hispanic population of 26 percent, but only 17 percent of jurors identified themselves as Hispanic; 7 percent of jurors identified themselves as “Other,” compared with 17 percent of the Queens population.
A report conducted in 2006 and 2007 by advocate group Citizen Action of New York spurred the legislation. Their report found that people who showed up to jury duty in Manhattan were disproportionately white. Hispanics were also under represented.
The next step after this new report, Lancman said, would be to hold a hearing to investigate why certain groups are not adequately represented in jury pools. He speculated that a reason for these results may be that the source lists used to collect juror’s names is not expansive enough. Names are drawn from lists of “permanent information,” like driver’s licenses and other state-issued identification. Immigrant groups are less likely to have the type of identification that is available in jury pool databases.
An over reliance on government-issued identification, agreed Leonard Baynes, a professor of law at St. John’s University, may be a reason for why certain minority groups are not showing up in jury pools. The danger, he said, is that under representation leads to skewed justice.
“Oh, that person reminds me of my uncle, one of the jurors may say,” Baynes said. “And that person doesn’t remind me of anybody, they may also say.”
Beyond race, class may also hold an answer for why certain groups are underrepresented. Those without permanent homes and stable jobs that allow them to remain in one place are less likely to make it to jury pool databases, according to Steven Zeidman, professor of law at CUNY School of Law and an expert on judicial selection and independence.
“We need to step back and take a more comprehensive and thoughtful approach,” Zeidman said. “The poorer you are, the harder it is to do jury service. Can you afford day care? Are you self-employed? If you have money, you can manage this much better.”
Zeidman also said civic outreach efforts could be put into place to better educate people about jury duty. When a letter in “legalese” arrives in the mail asking an individual to report to court, he or she may be initially intimidated and never fill out any forms. Language barriers can make decoding the questionnaire sent to all potential jurors an onerous experience for those who are not fluent English speakers. Nearly 18 percent of Queens County households do not have anyone 14-or-older with English language fluency, according to the OCEA report.
“Are we reaching enough people? That is the question that needs to be asked,” Zeidman said.
Reach Reporter Ross Barkan at email@example.com or (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127.