Brief Description of the Massachusetts Jury System Administration of the Massachusetts Jury System
The Framers of the United States Constitution considered both the right to a jury trial and the performance of juror service as sacred and necessary to preserve individual freedom. Juror service was, and still is, viewed as a duty and privilege of citizenship, and as a necessary check against government use of the courts to wrongly convict the innocent The right to trial by jury is guaranteed by the constitutions of the Commonwealth and the United States of America. Over two hundred years later, the jury system continues to serve a vital role in our democracy.
Throughout the years refinements have been implemented to reduce the burden placed upon those who are called to serve as jurors. It was not long ago when Massachusetts jurors would serve for a period of one month and may have sat on more than one trial. Participation as a juror imposed such a heavy burden on each citizen summonsed to serve that exemptions were necessary - thus, many people were excluded. As a result of the large number of citizens qualifying for exemption, the jury pools were not as likely to very accurately represent an inclusive cross-section of the community.
Progressive refinements took place in the early 1980's. To expand citizen participation jury service had to be made less burdensome. The Commonwealth became the first in the nation to implement a statewide one day/one trial system. Under this system, trial jurors serve either one day or, if impaneled, one trial. After juror service has been satisfied, in order to give more people the opportunity to serve, that juror is disqualified from serving again for a minimum of three years. The new system also shortened the length of grand juror service from six months to three. Today, class exemptions no longer exist so more citizens have an opportunity to perform juror service.
Largely responsible for the implementation of the One Day/One Trial jury system throughout Massachusetts was the decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in Commonwealth v. Bastarache, 382 Mass. 86, 414 N.E.2d 984 (1980), where a defendant was indicted and convicted of manslaughter. In its decision, the Court found that under the then existing juror selection system for Franklin County those persons between the ages of 18 and 34, who comprised 36% of the population, had been excluded from the juror selection process. Although it recognized that young people often have different opinions, reactions and impressions than older persons have, the Court nevertheless found that classifications based on age alone did not constitute "identifiable" or "distinctive" groups as defined by case law and were therefore not grounds for reversal. Yet, in Bastarache, the court determined that underrepresentation of any age group should not continue. Under its supervisory powers, the Court endorsed random techniques of juror selection so as to eliminate those flaws which had previously brought about the exclusion of any group of citizens from the process. When Bastarache was decided, the One Day/One Trial jury system was functioning as a pilot program only in Middlesex County. Shortly thereafter, the Massachusetts legislature voted to expand the Middlesex County juror selection process into all counties of the Commonwealth (Chapter 298 of the Acts of 1982). The Office of Jury Commissioner for Middlesex County thereafter became the Office of Jury Commissioner for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (OJC). The statewide expansion, under the supervision of the Supreme Judicial Court and the guidance of its standing oversight committee (the Jury Management Advisory Committee), was completed in 1988. All fourteen judicial districts of the Commonwealth were operating under the One Day/One Trial jury system.
As a result of the reduction in the number of days jurors are required to serve, the OJC had to increase the number of jurors summonsed for each judicial district to meet the needs of the juror requirements for each courthouse. The OJC, in an effort to achieve a higher juror yield and maintain a diverse jury pool, established a delinquent juror prosecution program to prosecute those jurors who unlawfully fail to respond to a jury summons, respond to the summons but then fail to appear at the courthouse as scheduled, or fail to fully complete juror service. The firm, persistent, yet gentle enforcement of this law is undertaken in order to ensure that all prospective jurors fulfill their duties and obligations to serve. The OJC also established a Public Outreach Team whose members address schools, colleges and civic groups. This program makes the public aware that juror service is not as burdensome as they may believe, and it can be an obligation that is rewarding.
Currently in Massachusetts, fifty-eight courts utilize jurors in the fourteen judicial districts (counties). Although eighty-five percent of those who appear complete their jury service in just one day and ninety-five percent finish in three days, prospective jurors are advised to set aside three days in the event they are impaneled on a trial.
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