More Diverse Juries

During Blomberg’s jury selection, 64 people were summoned and were divided into four groups of 16 each. The jury panel size varies on the amount of people a judge requests. Typically, for a misdemeanor trial such as Blomberg’s, approximately 100 people are summoned to jury service, Daniel said. After potential jurors are summoned, the selection process is up to the district attorney and the judge presiding over the case.

Individuals were called in to the judge’s chambers for questioning by the judge and district attorney, in a process called voir dire. Defense attorney Jolanda Jones said the use of voir dire was not necessary since the separation from other potential jurors intimidated minorities and poor people.

“I don’t think it should have been granted in the Blomberg case,” she said.

Typically, voir dire is used for capital murder cases, but it most likely was used in the Blomberg trial because of the notoriety of the case, Daniel said.

Houston Chronicle.

How many things are wrong with this excerpt?

Typically, for a misdemeanor trial, about one hundred people are summoned to jury service. But those are the people who receive notice in the mail. Of those, maybe thirty turn up at the jury assembly room on the appointed day; twenty to thirty—however many the judge has requested—make the trek to the courtroom for a typical misdemeanor case. The number “summoned” is not the same as the number requested by the judge.

Blomberg’s case was not a typical misdemeanor, so instead of twenty to thirty jurors, the judge requested a panel of sixty-four.

Jolanda Jones most certainly did not say that the use of voir dire was not necessary. You can’t pick a jury without voir dire. What she might have said was that individual voir dire was not necessary.

(Jones may be wrong about that. Individual voir dire may be necessary in high-publicity cases like this one where it’s impossible to talk with one potential juror about her exposure to the publicity without effectively exposing the next potential juror to that publicity. News reports often contain information that would not be admissible at trial or that is flat-out wrong. I know: shocking.)

Chris Daniel may or may not have said that voir dire most likely was used in the Blomberg trial because of the notoriety of the case. From the context, I doubt it. Daniel probably knows the difference between “voir dire” and “individual voir dire.”

So…how many things are wrong with this excerpt? Only one: it was written by someone without a functional understanding of the criminal-justice center.

Both Green and Jackson Lee said transparency in the jury selection process is needed to prevent one-race juries. Jackson Lee said lack of diversity was alarming and called for an increase in the number of residents summoned for jury service to 300 from 75.

If five percent of the jury panel is black when you summon seventy-five people, five percent of the jury panel will be black when you summon three hundred people. Jury panels are randomly stacked, so the black five percent won’t be right up front where they’re more likely to make it on the jury. What good would increasing the number of residents summoned do? Not a damn thing.

Jury lists comprise those who are registered to vote, who are licensed to drive, or who have a Texas ID card. There’s no good way to broaden the pool of potential voters. 

Do you really want to get more diverse juries? Don’t waste your time holding meaningless press conferences looking for futile government solutions to problems of apathy. Don’t write newspaper articles that leave their readers more ignorant than when they started. Instead, go out in the neighborhood and encourage people to serve.

10 responses to “More Diverse Juries”

  1. Encouraging blacks to show up for jury duty wouldn’t insure more blacks made it on the panels. Harris county prosecutors routinely strike blacks from juries when the defendant is also black. For any city that is diverse as Houston it is amazing how often all-white juries are empaneled. Didn’t Lykos discipline two assistants a while back who had stricken black jurors? Then she turned right around and ignored it happening dozens and dozens of other times. Not that Anderson would be any different in regards to the racial makeup of juries, but it will be nice to see Lykos gone. Then we’ll start harping about how Anderson took the DA’s office right back where his pal Rosenthal left it.

    • It wouldn’t insure it, but it would make it more likely. Racially motivated strikes are harder to hide when there are ten of them than when there are three.

  2. This isn’t how Harris County (or any other large population center) summons jurors. They aren’t summoned for one case; they are summoned to the general pool of thousands in that snazzy new building. When I served, I served in a civil court, and my jury pool neighbors went to family or criminal or juvenile courts. Everyone who has served knows that because it is announced.

    • The District Clerk estimates the jurors that will be requested on a particular day, and then summons some multiple of that number of jurors.

      I think the Chronicle writer, and probably the politicians, are confusing jurors “summoned” with size of jury panels requested by judges. Whatever number you tweak, though, you’re not going to get more blacks on juries by tweaking the numbers.

  3. Weren’t most of the blacks in the Blomberg pool struck because the judge decided they had already formed an opinion on the case after seeing the video in the media? That certainly can’t help pick a diverse jury.

  4. When I read that the DA allowed the defense attorneys for all of the officers make the decision of which case went to trial first, I realized that this had all been a sham. I’m pretty sure THAT had never been done ever before. And if Lykos allowed such as that, then it’s not too much of a stretch that Greenwood probably consulted them about what strategy he should use as well. Heck, I bet Clint and Pat were at the bar with Blomberg and Dick helping them celebrate their win.

  5. The writer is a brand new writer at Chron and I did the best I could over the phone to explain what happened. Mark is correct that I was misquoted and that the writer is new to writing about the Criminal Justice System.

    While I agree we should have more diverse panels and jury pools, the first issue is getting folks to show up. We consistently have low turn out from low income/ minority areas. Most jurors come from outside the 610 loop and drive in. I am in talks with community leaders and both congressmen mentioned to develop a program to increase minority turn out to Jury Service.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.