The Right to a Jury of One's Peers
The Sixth Amendment rights associated with trial proceedings -- the right to a speedy trial, the right to a public trial and the right to be judged by a jury of one's peers -- are so bound together by circumstance and tradition that it is almost inconceivable to separate them. Still, each of these parallel rights has developed in its own manner through the centuries.
The right of a person to be tried by a jury of one's peers is traditionally founded on a provision contained in Chapter 29 of that great document of English law, the Magna Carta. That provision, written in 1225, states: "No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will we not pass upon him, nor (condemn him), but by lawful judgment of his own peers, or by the law of the land."
Subsequent generations -- including the authors of the Bill of Rights -- came to regard this provision as one of the principal legal guarantees of liberty under the common law. This belief came on the basis that the clause not only provided for a formal trial for any alleged wrongdoer instead of arbitrary judgment and summary execution, but also on the basis that it provided for trial by jury. They felt the phrase " . . . but by lawful judgment of his peers" ensured a fair trial and provided a safeguard against unwarranted interference with the rights and liberties of the subject.
Congress, in discussing policy regarding jury service, said: "It is the policy of the United States that all litigants in federal courts entitled to trial by jury shall have the right to grand and petit juries selected at random from a fair cross-section of the community in the district or division wherein the court convenes. It is also the policy of the United States that all citizens shall have the opportunity to be considered for service on grand and petit juries in the district courts of the United States, and shall have an obligation to serve as jurors when called for that purpose."
That statement of policy was an attempt by Congress, in its own words, to "provide the best method for obtaining jury lists that represent a cross-section of the relevant community for establishing an effective bulwark against impermissible forms of discrimination and arbitrariness."
The reasons which prompted Congress to insist on random selection of jurors from a source of names which is representative of a fair cross-section of the local community appear no less compelling when viewed on the state level. The juror selection process of each state must result in a list of prospective jurors that represents a fair cross-section of the community.
The federal courts have repeatedly ruled that the arbitrary exclusion of a cognizable group or class of persons from the list by which jurors -- federal or state -are to be selected is constitutionally wrong. The requirement that juries be selected from a fair cross-section of the community may be seen as the restatement, in the form of a positive command, of the prohibition against arbitrary exclusions. That is, absent such arbitrary exclusions, it can be expected that all the different groups which make up a community will be represented on the list of eligible jurors.
The arbitrary exclusion of a particular class of people from the list of persons eligible for jury duty is impermissible precisely because such exclusion fails to provide a fair possibility that the jury will represent a cross-section of the community.
It is, of course, impossible in a society as diverse as ours to provide representation for every group or every idea on each jury, or even on each panel of prospective jurors. Because of the small size of these bodies, the possibility of purely accidental exclusions under a completely fair juror selection process is very real. For this reason, the belief that juries should be truly representative of the community has been translated into the more practical requirement that the list from which jurors are selected must be representative of a fair cross-section of the community.
This requirement is further justified by the effect such a provision has on the administration of justice. For most people, jury service is one of the few contacts which the citizen has with the judicial system. It provides the opportunity to dispel some of the mystery which sometimes surrounds courtrooms, judges and lawyers. Through jury service, members of the community can themselves see and participate in a trial and thereby assure themselves and everyone in the community who knows them of the fairness of the system in which they participated.
It should also be noted that the possibility of accomplishing one of the primary functions of the criminal process -- the rehabilitation of the convicted criminal may also be increased or decreased by the proper constitution of juries.
A defendant convicted by a jury from which members of his particular class or group have been excluded has some cause to believe that the jury was stacked against him. To this defendant, his conviction does not represent the censure of his actions by the community; rather, it is merely another manifestation of the prejudice of society against his particular group. A jury that is really representative of the community reduces the probability the trial itself will discourage rehabilitation, and may cause the defendant to face the fact that all of society has condemned his actions.
It is, of course, very clear that any exclusion of persons from the list of those eligible for jury duty on account of race is unconstitutional. Congress has specifically forbidden such exclusions and the practice has often been condemned by the courts. It has been recognized that similar constitutional issues of a serious nature are raised by the exclusion of young adults, women or ethnic groups.
Random selection of citizens is called for in choosing jurors for federal juries, but Missouri is different. The state statute provides, "Every juror, grand or petit, shall be a citizen of the state, a resident of the county or of a city not within a county for which the jury may be impaneled; sober and intelligent, of good reputation, over twenty-one years of age and otherwise qualified." The words " . . . sober and intelligent, of good reputation . . . " seem to allow for some discretion by those selecting jurors.
"Variety" is the best way to describe the jury selection process in Missouri circuit courts. Some circuits use the "key man" method of selecting names. This is where key men of various occupations are chosen, and they select jury lists themselves. Other circuits use random selection, while personal knowledge and other subjective evaluations are used in other areas. In some circuits, the general population, such as voters, are considered eligible to serve as jurors, while in others up to 40 percent of the population has been found unqualified for some reason.
Whatever the selection process -- and the process is continually refined -- the Sixth Amendment guarantees that it be done in a manner fair to the accused. Even in Missouri, with differing selection processes, the choosing of a jury is handled in a manner consistent with the Sixth Amendment's goal: the obtaining of an impartial jury representing a cross-section of the community.