Oregon circuit courts are adopting many new practices to improve jury service by
- improving how they summon, notify, orient, and pay jurors
- involving jurors as more active participants in trials
Shortening the terms of service
Most courts have shortened the term of jury service. The term in most larger courts is now one trial or, for jurors not selected for trial or grand jury, one day. Courts in counties with fewer citizens are also shortening the terms as much as they can and still have enough jurors to report when needed without calling them more than once every two years.
Of course, some unusual, complex trials can be long. Serving on a grand jury may require a number of days over a longer term. Our courts work with jurors to excuse or defer jury service when service would cause undue hardship and to excuse service when the juror does not meet the qualifications required to serve. They need as much notice as possible; jurors should request excuse or deferral as soon as possible after receiving the summons. The summons has instructions about how to ask the court to excuse or defer service.
Most courts have telephone systems to notify jurors close to the trial date whether the juror still needs to report that day. Because cases may settle between the time the court sends the summons and the trial date, the court may need fewer jurors to report than it summoned. Some courts have systems for jurors to call in for a recorded message the day or night before the reporting date.
Some courts include a response card with the summons and ask jurors to confirm that they received the summons and indicate whether they need to defer service to a different month. This helps jurors and their employers plan work around jury service.
Increased juror fees and expenses
The state court system asked the legislature in 1999 to
- increase juror fees for jurors who serve more than two days
- increase mileage reimbursement
- provide additional funds to reimburse additional expenses some jurors face, such as childcare or overnight lodging for jurors who travel long distances
- allow jurors to waive their fees and expense reimbursement and donate them to a fund designated by the Chief Justice to use to improve access to justice in state courts.
The legislature approved that legislation. Fees were to increase in 2001, but the 2001 legislature postponed them until January 2002, and then reluctantly reduced the increases substantially because of the state’s budget crisis in 2002. We will work with the legislature to restore the increases when the state’s fiscal crisis abates.
We also sponsored legislation in 2001 to provide interpreters for non- English-speaking jurors and to allow the interpreters to be in the jury room during deliberations. That bill did not pass because of the high fiscal impact. Our courts do provide and pay for qualified interpreters for jurors who have hearing or speech impairments and need an interpreter to be able to participate fully; both state and federal law ensure that people who have speech or hearing impairments can participate fully as jurors in our courts.
All our courts also have assistive listening devices for people who have some hearing loss or have trouble hearing in courtrooms that do not have good acoustics.
Involving jurors as active participants during trial
While many of the practices discussed below are relatively new in state courts around the country, some Oregon judges have followed these practices for some time and no longer think of them as innovations. Practices that some, though not all, Oregon judges use regularly include
- allowing jurors to ask questions and take notes
- using juror numbers rather than names to protect jurors’ privacy
- giving jurors recorded and printed jury instructions to take to the jury room
- allowing attorneys to make mini-opening statements before voir dire
- giving general jury instructions before trial and specific instructions before closing arguments
- debriefing with jurors after trial, including bringing in trained professionals to help jurors cope with stress and trauma in emotionally difficult cases
Improving jury service and giving jurors better tools to do their work are regular topics at judges continuing education sessions, and more Oregon circuit judges are adopting these practices or at least trying them on.
In December 2000, Oregon’s Rule of Civil Procedure 58 was amended to expressly provide and encourage some of these practices.
Most judges who allow jurors to ask questions require jurors to submit the questions in writing. Some provide question forms or note paper in the jury box for jurors to use to write their questions. Some judges permit juror questions in certain types of cases but not all.
Judges and court administrators have set up opportunities for jurors to “debrief” both in regular trials and in particularly stressful trials. Many Oregon judges debrief with jurors generally about the trial process, the judge’s and attorneys' professionalism and effectiveness, juror orientation and service, and the like. The judges use this opportunity to gain feedback so they can improve their own effectiveness and improve jury service and effectiveness. Some judges write thank you notes; some have used exit surveys from time to time to get feedback. Judges who meet with jurors and get feedback on attorneys' "performance" often share that feedback with the attorneys later so that the attorneys can use that information to improve their presentations.
Several courts have done more extensive debriefing in cases that involve traumatic testimony and exhibits. One court has worked extensively with trauma counselors, who wrote a report on this work, “Jury Debriefing in Yamhill County,” and a brochure for courts to provide jurors in difficult criminal cases. Both are available by email from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oregon courts and Oregon judges continue to work with jurors and lawyers to improve jury service and to increase citizen participation, effectiveness, and satisfaction, while carefully ensuring the right to a fair trial. Judges who use these practices report that
- jurors are more productive
- more jurors report for service
- fewer jurors ask to be excused for hardship
- court and counsel work together to ensure that the trial is fair and the jurors work within the limits the court sets
- attorneys gain valuable feedback from jurors
- jurors and judges find the changes improve their ability to do their jobs well and fairly
For more information on what courts around the country are doing to improve jury service, visit the National Center for State Courts Center for Jury Studies.