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Jury Duty: Who Gets Called, And Who Actually Serves





UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: Twenty-five thousand eight hundred and forty-two.


Time now for some number crunching from our data expert Mona Chalabi from fivethirtyeight.com. She has given us this number of the week.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5: 32 million.

MARTIN: That's the number of people who get summoned each year for jury duty in U.S. state courts. Mona Chalabi has been looking closely at the number of Americans who get called upon to serve on a jury. Hey, Mona.


MARTIN: So what made you start looking into this particular number?

CHALABI: Well, it actually came as a question from a reader. I write a column as a kind of statistical Dear Abby. This one reader, Andrew, who's 45 and lives in Connecticut, he got in touch to tell me that he had served on multiple juries and wanted to know whether or not that's unusual. So I started to look for some national data. And I came across that number that you mentioned - 32 million. And that's the number of Americans that get summoned each year. The number comes from a 2007 survey by the National Center for State Courts. They surveyed over a thousand local courts and almost 12,000 judges and lawyers to get to that number.


CHALABI: But the problem is is that I don't have any more recent data since 2007 beyond that one particular survey. It's incredibly hard to collect data from these state courts because there are so many of them and because their practices differ so widely from place to place.

MARTIN: All right, so based on what you do know, is it possible to figure out how many people actually show up for jury duty because it's one thing to get a summons in the mail, but you know, getting to the courthouse is sometimes another.

CHALABI: Yeah, absolutely. The number is far lower than that 32 million we started with. So based on the same survey that comes from these guys, they found that each year, the state court summoned 32 million people, but when it comes to actually showing up, only 8 million people actually report for jury service. And there's lots of reasons why that number reduces from 32 million to 8 million including the 4 million summonses that are returned by the post office marked as undeliverable, the 3 million people that get excused for financial or medical hardship and another 3 million that simply fail to show up.

MARTIN: Three million people just don't come, wow, OK.

CHALABI: Yeah. Exactly.

MARTIN: OK, so 8 million people report for service. Do we know anything about the numbers of those folks who actually get selected for juries?

CHALABI: Yeah, it's even smaller still. So we're down to about 1.5 million Americans each year.

MARTIN: All right, understanding that the details of any particular case will determine the kinds of jurors the attorneys are looking for, is there a kind of person who is more likely to get selected for juries?

CHALABI: Absolutely, but that person will vary depending on the nature of the trial, which is why the math behind this is so difficult. To illustrate that, The New York Times actually created this interactive that shows how many different factors are at play. So it presents you with a hypothetical scenario. In this case, you're a potential juror in a case where the plaintiff is a woman in her 60s. The woman says she's lost money because her investments were mismanaged. Then the interactive asks you dozens of questions, and some of them are things that you might expect anyway, like occupation, age and income level. But then there are also things that are so particular to the case, things like do you have close friends or family in the finance industry and even whether you like crossword puzzles. And if you think about that in terms of variables that I would need to quantify to work out the kinds of people likely to be selected, you start to see that in terms of mathematical probabilities, this is incredibly difficult to understand.

MARTIN: So you're basically saying you're off the hook, right? Like, there's no way that you can tell us the odds of any one of us getting selected for jury duty. All right, fine.

CHALABI: (Laughter) I'm sorry, I really did try.

MARTIN: (Laughter) That's OK. It's our civic duty, we should say. Mona Chalabi of fivethirtyeight.com. Thanks so much, Mona.

CHALABI: Thanks, Rachel.


TOOTS AND THE MAYTALS: (Singing) 54-46, that's my number. 54-46 that's my number. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.