Pandemic Unwillingness of Jurors to Serve
In March of 2020 U.S. courtrooms came to a screeching halt and remote proceedings became commonplace in many venues. Trial dates were pushed months and sometimes years. Various Covid-related restrictions took hold across the country, and courthouses came up with their own models for resuming jury trials. Some courthouses barely shut down while others to this day take stringent precautions for in-person jury trials.
Starting in the summer of 2020, Trial Methods sought to ascertain how prospective jurors in various regions felt about being called to serve as a juror during the pandemic. One question we asked was whether a potential juror agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “If I was called to jury duty during the pandemic and ended up serving, I would be mad at one or both or all of the parties involved for making me sit as a juror.” The implications of the responses to this question had and will continue to have a major bearing on parties involved in a jury trial. While we do not know with certainty whether those who agreed with this question would hold it against the plaintiff, defendant(s) or both, it is safe to say no one wants to seat a resentful juror. The risk of that juror checking out or wanting to “stick it” to one of the parties without real regard for the evidence is a risk no litigant would be willing to take.
The good news is that with time, the percentage of those agreeing with this question has steadily declined. Matching the public’s perception that the pandemic is over or is always going to be around meaning we have to resume our normal lives, is the fact that fewer and fewer jurors are concerned about serving on a jury.
In June of 2020, our nationwide survey spanning 15 counties showed 46% of respondents would be mad at one of the parties or both parties or all parties if asked to serve on a jury. In the spring of 2021, same 15 counties, the number dropped to 43%. In April of this year (2022) the number was down to just over one-third of respondents (38%) in the same counties. This year, in myriad surveys aside from the national survey, we have seen that number as low as 7% in some venues, and it is safe to assume that for many of those indicating “yes,” they may be frustrated at the prospect of serving on a jury but by the same measure also understand why in-person jury trials need to resume. Still, it is important to get a sense of the venire and community at large in terms of a lingering unwillingness of jurors to serve due to Covid-related concerns. The good news is that jurors are a reflection of a society that wants to get back to work, resume normal activities and live life the way we did prior to the spring of 2020.