Affluent Whites Skew Jury Pools In Houston


Residents of mostly white, affluent neighborhoods in Houston’s Harris County are up to seven times more likely to show up for jury duty than those in the county’s lower-income, mostly minority neighborhoods, reports the Houston Chronicle. The low turnout from some pockets skews the racial, cultural, and economic makeup of panels from which juries are chosen. Because many criminal defendants come from areas with the lowest jury turnout, the disparity raises questions about whether the accused may be deprived of their constitutional right to a jury of their peers. “You don’t want a minority defendant being convicted of any crime and having their punishment assessed by an all-white jury,” said ex-appeals judge Charles Baird. “Whenever you do that, you undermine the legitimacy of the process.”

When 772,000 county residents were summoned last year for jury duty, the average turnout was 17 percent. The 10 ZIP codes with the highest turnout, all exceeding 30 percent, are predominantly white, with a median annual income of $77,083. The 10 ZIP codes with the lowest turnout, all below 10 percent, have populations predominantly Hispanic or black. Those areas had a median income of $29,636. Low turnout reflects a failure to view jury duty as a priority and a civic obligation, said law Prof. John Jay Douglass of the University of Houston. “The real story here is, why aren’t these people doing what they are supposed to be doing?” he said. “It’s not that the system isn’t working; it’s that these people aren’t participating in it.”


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