Juror Delinquency in Criminal Trials in America, 1796-1996

This article examines two aspects of the jury system that have attracted far less attention from scholars than from the popular press: avoidance of jury duty by some citizens, and misconduct while serving by others. Contemporary reports of juror shortages and jury dodging portray a system in crisis. Coverage of recent high-profile cases suggests that misconduct by jurors who do serve is common. In the trial of Damian Williams and Henry Watson for the beating of Reginald Denny, a juror was kicked off for failing to deliberate; Exxon, Charles Keating, and the man accused of murdering Michael Jordan’s father all complained of juror misconduct; and, of course, several jurors in the trial of O.J. Simpson were replaced after allegations that ·they had lied, concealed intentions to profit from the case, or otherwise misbehaved. Inthe past year, newspaper reports have described less well-known cases in which jurors refused to answer personal questions, stole jewels introduced as evidence, had sex with courthouse deputies, visited the crime scene, bit another juror’s arm to examine tooth marks, read forbidden newspaper articles, got drunk, made racist comments, used drugs, and discussed the case before the end of the trial.

The first half of this article is devoted to a study of the avoidance of jury service and the law’s response. After introducing theoretical and practical constraints on the administration of compulsory jury service in section I.A, I review in section I.B the experience of courts in recruiting jurors for the past two centuries. Section l.C describes the situation today using the responses of trial judges surveyed. The discussion of jury avoidance concludes in section l.D with a brief analysis of several proposed reforms. The second half of the article addresses misconduct by jurors once they have appeared for jury duty. Following an exposition of historical trends concerning misconduct in section II.A, section II.B reports the responses of judges surveyed about jury misconduct in their courts over the past three years. Section II.C concludes with some observations about the future regulation of juror misconduct.