This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Jury Demographics

I spent the day yesterday traveling to and from the Solano County, CA, courthouse, where I testified on behalf of the defense in a murder case in support of a motion to compel the jury commissioner to conduct a survey among potential jurors to see if the jury pool in Solana County reflects the demographics of the jury-eligible population in the county. The 6th Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees the right to a trial of your "peers" and over the years the courts have recognized certain "cognizable" groups that must be appropriately represented, mainly racial and ethnic groups and males and females--characteristics that may uniquely influence the way you think and feel and thus might influence your decision on a jury panel.

Jury composition in California is mainly challenged in death-penalty cases such as this one, and this case is noteworthy partly because the defendant is African-American and the victim was a non-Hispanic white teenager. It is thus especially important to the defense to have a jury pool that is representative of the community. I have calculated that the percent of the jury-eligible population (defined as 18 years of age and older residing in Solano County, US citizen who speaks English at least well) is 16.3 percent. This is the highest percentage of any county in California, which frankly was a surprise to me when I did the calculations. To be sure, Los Angeles has more African-Americans than any other county, and by a lot, but Solano County has the highest percentage.

I have been involved in more than 100 jury challenges in California (in State Superior Courts and in Federal District Courts) and the concern has largely been over the representation of Latinos and, to a lesser extent, Asians. The presence of both groups can be assessed with the use of surname lists provided by the U.S. Census Bureau that tabulate the self reported racial/ethnic self-identification of people of each surname found in the census results. So, if we just have a list of the names of potential jurors, we can know with a high degree of certainty how many are Latino and how many are Asian. African-Americans as a group do not have distinctive surnames, however, so the only way to know about their representation on jury pools is by means of a questionnaire administered to people showing up for jury duty. Los Angeles County has been doing this for a long time, and every other county in which I have been involved in this way has done it voluntarily. Yet, so far Solano County is resisting, for reasons that are not obvious. Indeed, the Jury Commissioner chose not to attend court yesterday, so we have yet to hear from him. We'll have to wait and see how this plays out...

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