Jurors’ Willingness to Attend Jury Service in the Time of COVID-19
While some consultants and legal scholars have posited that COVID-19 will have a massive impact on who actually shows up for jury service when the courts reopen, these data suggest that the jury pool will largely stay the same. There will undeniably be a percentage of the population that avoids service due to fears of COVID-19, but it seems that many of these people are those who have avoided jury service in the past. Only about one in ten of those summoned is likely to ignore a summons on the basis of COVID-19. Moreover, this small portion of the jury-eligible population is not merely composed of the elderly or minorities, it’s a relatively diverse group that shares a fear of the virus.
However, these findings do not diminish the importance of courts taking steps to alleviate concerns about the virus. Although most jurors will attend, most are clearly concerned about getting COVID-19 and feel somewhat uncomfortable with serving, particularly for longer periods of time. For these reasons, the courts and litigating parties should take every precaution to ensure the safety of jurors. Failure to do so will likely result in distracted jurors and hasty deliberations.
Over the course of three weeks (July 6–27), IMS | The Focal Point conducted a community attitude survey examining juror attitudes toward serving in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, we asked whether potential jurors would appear for jury service if summoned for August 3rd. A total of 494 respondents in four representative venues—Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, and New York—completed the survey. Below are the key findings from these data.
Most jurors would attend jury service if summoned.
Remarkably, 88% of the jury-eligible sample indicated they would show up for service.
- In the location with the highest contemporaneous risk of COVID-19 (Houston), 88% indicated they would show up for service.
- Los Angeles (79%) had the lowest attendance rate among the four venues.
- Similar attendance rates were seen in Chicago (82%) and New York City (83%).
While it should be noted that it is far easier to indicate you would attend jury service as opposed to actually doing so, this serves as evidence that jurors generally still see their role in the judicial system as essential and believe their attendance is important.
- In open-ended responses, roughly 40% of jurors mentioned showing up was part of their civic duty.
- Rates of attendance were highest among those who had previously served on a jury (87%) compared to those who hadn’t (79%), which is consistent with the Civil Jury Project’s historical findings that previous jury service is associated with more reverence for the process.
Several patterns emerged in terms of who would not attend.
Unsurprisingly, the best predictor of avoiding jury service due to COVID-19 was previous avoidance of jury service.
- Thirty-one percent of those who indicated they would not attend admitted they had attempted to get out of jury service in the past.
- Among those who indicated they had previously ignored a jury summons, 36% said they would not attend jury selection on August 3rd.
Additionally, satisfaction with the local community was a significant predictor.
- One-fifth of those who would not attend indicated they were dissatisfied with their community.
Minorities were slightly less likely to attend jury service.
- Roughly two-thirds of those who indicated they would not attend were African American (24%), Hispanic (24%), or Asian (16%).
Homemakers and stay-at-home parents were more likely to avoid jury service (35%) than those who were employed or self-employed (14%). This is consistent with patterns we would normally see in jury service.
- Surprisingly, those who had children, were the primary caretaker of an elderly person, and lived in a multigenerational household were NOT more likely to avoid jury service.
- Twenty-two jurors met all three of these criteria, and only four of them indicated they would not attend. This percentage (18%) is comparable to the entire population (17%).
Age was a poor predictor of attendance.
- Although 35% of those who would not attend were between the ages of fifty-five and seventy-four, differences between age groups were relatively small.
- The lowest rate of attendance (75%) was observed among those between the ages of fifty-five and sixty-four.
- However, the attendance rate for the eighteen to twenty-four group (90%) was nearly equal to the rate of attendance among the sixty-five to seventy-four group (87%).
Attendance to jury service was uncorrelated with concerns about contracting COVID-19.
- However, those who indicated they would not attend tended to be very worried or somewhat worried about getting COVID-19.
- Of the eighty-six jurors who would not attend, seventy-four (86%) were worried about getting the virus.
- In open-ended responses, 62% specifically mentioned concerns about becoming infected.
- Nearly everyone is concerned about becoming infected with the virus, but this concern is more common among those who would not attend jury service.
- Concerns about the virus will be top of mind for most of those who attempt to get out of jury service.
Jurors will have high standards in terms of prevention measures.
Only a few who were willing to attend jury service in the midst of the pandemic would do so unconditionally.
- Only 19% of those who said they would attend indicated they would do so no matter what, independent of which prevention measures were utilized.
- Most people agreed that, at a minimum, these measures made them more comfortable in attending.
- Among the entire sample, about 55% of respondents believed masks and social distancing were very effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
About 60% said that regular sanitation of courthouse surfaces and temperature checks would be necessary for their attendance.
- A similar percentage said that these measures would make them more comfortable attending jury service.
- About half of all respondents thought daily temperature checks were very effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Half of jurors said that a COVID-19 vaccine would make them feel more comfortable in attending jury service.
- Nearly 70% of all jurors believed that a COVID-19 vaccine would be effective in preventing the spread of the virus.
Jurors will prefer to serve as briefly as possible.
About 60% of jurors who said they would attend indicated they would be very comfortable or mostly comfortable serving for several days during a trial.
- Only 14% of jurors willing to attend indicated they would be very uncomfortable serving for several days.
However, the majority of jurors felt uncomfortable when faced with the prospect of serving for multiple weeks.
- Fifty-nine percent of jurors indicated they would be somewhat or very uncomfortable if asked to serve multiple weeks during a trial.
- Only 18% of jurors willing to attend indicated they would be very comfortable serving for multiple weeks.
A small plurality of respondents believed that jury deliberations would be shorter following COVID-19.
- About 36% said they would expect deliberations to be shorter, while 31% said they would be about the same and 33% expected them to be longer.
Jurors will be somewhat distracted during their service.
Despite the high rate of jurors who indicated that they would attend jury service, most conceded that they will be somewhat distracted.
- About half of the sample believed that jurors would be somewhat inattentive, or very inattentive to the trial given all that is happening in the world.
- This belief was especially prevalent among those who would not attend, as 63% of this group believed jurors would be inattentive.
- Only 19% of those who would attend believed they would be very attentive.
An overwhelming majority of the sample was concerned about getting COVID-19.
- Thirty-eight percent were very worried about contracting the virus, and an additional 44% were somewhat worried.
- These concerns were slightly less pronounced among those who would attend jury service (36% and 45%, respectively), but the majority still were worried about the virus in the face of jury service.
- Only 5% of the sample was not at all worried about getting COVID-19.
Among those who were willing to attend jury service, women and minorities were more likely to feel uncomfortable about attending court as a selected juror.
- Forty-eight percent of women indicated they would be uncomfortable serving if selected, versus 33% of men.
- Forty-three percent of minorities indicated they would be uncomfortable serving if selected, versus 38% of Caucasians.
For a summary of the research design and sample parameters, please visit our COVID-19 Research Hub.
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Appeared in IMS | TFP COVID-19 Research Insights
August 03, 2020