Friday, July 28, 2006

Are Utah's juries too white?

Defense Attorney Michael Esplin thinks so, and is suing the 4th district court (Utah County/Happy Valley) on grounds that Hispanics are underrepresented in jury pools. The Deseret Morning News explains the current system:
In compiling a statewide jury pool, state agencies gather information from driver's license and voter-registration forms, Esplin said. However, providing information about ethnicity on such forms is voluntary.
Jury questionnaires from 4th District Court ask about jury availability and previous felony convictions — but not race.

Are Hispanics being underrepresented because they don't have driver's licenses or aren't registered to vote? Illegal aliens don't have the right to sit on juries, that's a pretty firm rule of law. But there is precedent for challenging a jury's lack of ethnic, racial, or gender diversity prior to empanelling the jury (swearing them in etc.) So are Hispanics underrepresented because of their illegal friends and relatives, or are they being underrepresented more than the number of illegals?
Vincent Fu, a professor of sociology at the University of Utah, testified that census data show Utah's Hispanic population of adults 20 years and older is nearly 8 percent of the population.
But Utah's master jury list — the pool of potential jurors — shows the Hispanic population at 4 percent.

There could be some major impacts in the short term with Esplin's case:
If Davis opts to rule in Esplin's favor, it could prevent any jury trial in the state until the system is fixed. It could also open the door for appeals of old jury trials — within an appropriate window of time.

Let's hope that we can get the system right without delaying justice unnecessarily.

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