Nathan_Goodmanby Nathan Goodman

Hello, FIJA supporters!

Last month I introduced myself to you and explained a bit about my role at FIJA as the 2015 Summer Fellow. Today I’d like to give you an update on some of what I’ve been doing so far. Research for the Jury Health Project is well underway at this point, and I’ve also been doing some media outreach.

The Young Voices Podcast
On July 1st, I had a delightful conversation with Daniel Pryor on the Young Voices Podcast. We discussed my recent article on Queer Liberation and Jury Nullification, and then discussed the numerous other contexts where jury nullification can be applied to advance liberty and justice. I then explained some of the history of jury nullification.

In addition, we discussed FIJA’s Jury Health Project, an ongoing research project examining various questions about the right to trial by jury as they vary across the 50 states and Washington, DC.  There are quite a few questions we’re asking as part of the Jury Health Project, and we’ll be publishing FIJA Fact Finder papers soon on the answers to these questions.

Thanks to Daniel for having me on the show and bringing important issues of jury rights to the Young Voices audience.

Jury Health Project Logo

How Much Are Jurors Paid?
Much of my work so far has centered around researching a fairly simple question: how much are jurors paid? We now have data on juror compensation for all 50 states, the federal courts, and Washington, DC. This data paints a picture of jurors that in most states are paid somewhere between $10 and $50 per day, substantially less than the federal minimum wage.

This is of course far less than the compensation given to the police, prosecutors, judges, and other government employees within the legal system. It’s understandable that the one element of the criminal justice system that represents the commoners rather than the state receives far less pay than the other elements. Part of the explanation is ideological, because jurors are seen not as employees doing a job, but as citizens performing a civic duty that they are obligated to perform regardless of pay. However, institutional and economic factors also play a role in explaining this disparity, and we will discuss these factors in our forthcoming FIJA Fact Finder paper on the subject.

We will also discuss the consequences that low juror compensation could have for liberty. When low income jurors are more likely to plead financial hardship, this changes the jury pool. This can undermine a defendant’s right to a jury of their peers and to a jury that represents a fair cross-section of the community. This can also have real consequences for the verdicts reached by juries. Psychological research suggests that jurors from different economic classes reach different types of verdicts. This research suggests that excluding or underrepresenting low-income jurors can lead to more punitive verdicts and even verdicts that undermine the right to bear arms. All this and more will be discussed in our forthcoming FIJA Fact Finder paper.

Are Juvenile Defendants’ Rights to a Jury Trial Respected? 
As we wrap up our juror compensation paper, we’re also beginning another FIJA Fact Finder paper for the Jury Health Project. This one examines the question of whether a state recognizes a juvenile defendant as possessing the right to a trial by jury. Sadly, there are many states in the US where this right is not recognized.

Given growing concerns about the school to prison pipeline and the criminalization of youth, this subject is increasingly relevant to public debate. Refusal to grant juvenile defendants a right to trial by jury as often been justified on grounds that “in theory, the juvenile court was to be helpful and rehabilitative rather than punitive.” But as scandals and abuses in juvenile detention centers are exposed, as judges exchange “cash for kids,” and as the school to prison pipeline criminalizes youth, this idealistic vision of the juvenile justice system is becoming less tenable.

As the public contemplates how to protect kids from an out of control juvenile justice system, they should look to the key role that juries can play as a check on government tyranny. Our research on juvenile justice and the right to trial by jury will hopefully illuminate this crucial issue.

Ultimately, the research we’re producing at the Jury Health Project will inform the public about the current state of the jury in America. Moreover, it will introduce crucial ideas about jury nullification and trial by jury as a check on government overreach into the national conversation about criminal justice, law, and civil liberties.