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How people are chosen for jury pools in Minnesota

Jury selection is under way in the Derek Chauvin trial. Here’s where the pool of potential jurors being questioned by attorneys comes from.

Fences shown in front of the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis.
Fences shown in front of the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis.
MinnPost photo by Lorie Shaull

As of Thursday, the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis Police officer charged with killing George Floyd, is three days into jury selection.

In the case of Chauvin’s trial, lawyers from the prosecution and defense have questioned potential jurors about their views on everything from Black Lives Matter to the state’s COVID-19 restrictions, all as part of an effort to determine which members of the pool should serve as a juror in the trial.

Ultimately, 12 of the nearly one million adult residents of Hennepin County, plus two alternates, will be chosen from a pool of undisclosed size for the job of determining whether or not there is enough evidence to convict Chauvin of charges related to Floyd’s death.

How did those people get there in the first place?

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How jury duty works

In Minnesota, the state puts together a pool of potential jurors from a couple of different lists: people registered to vote, people with driver’s licenses and people with state IDs. The state uses a computer to randomly select people to be summoned as potential trial jurors.

But not everyone who’s called up is eligible to serve as a juror in a trial. As MinnPost wrote in 2017, jurors have to be older than 18, a resident of the county in which the trial is being held and a U.S. citizen. Jurors also have to be able to communicate in English, be capable — physically and mentally — of serving on a jury, and have to have had their civil rights restored if they have been convicted of a felony. Potential jurors can’t have served on a state or federal jury in the past four years.

That means not everyone who is summoned is actually eligible to serve. For those who are, though, responding to summonses is required. If someone fails to respond, the court orders them to explain and if their reasoning isn’t deemed good enough, they can be guilty of a misdemeanor. Potential jurors fill out questionnaires, from which the courts narrow the number of people actually asked to report.

Fewer summonses

According to the Minnesota Judicial Branch’s Court Information Office, between 190,000 and 205,000 Minnesotans — about 5 percent of Minnesota adults — have received jury summons in the last three calendar years.

That’s below the national average, at least according to a 2007 report by the National Center for State Courts’ Center for Jury Studies. The report found that on average, about 15 percent of U.S. adults are sent jury summonses in a given year (we asked the Center if there were any updates to the report since the 2007 version and there haven’t been).

The report found that in 2007, the state with the highest level of its adult population summoned for jury duty in a year was California, with more than 40 percent. The lowest was New Jersey, where 1.4 percent of the adult population received summonses.

A few factors could be at play in explaining these differential rates of summons: the number of trials, the length of trials, exemptions from service and the terms of duty for jurors.

But one that seems to stick out when you compare a state like Minnesota to California is the terms of service.

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Minnesota uses a system where jurors are called up for a given length of time. If they’re not put on a trial or dismissed in that time period, their service is over. In Hennepin County, the length of service is two weeks; in Ramsey County, one week; and in Becker County, it can be three months. Instead of coming to the courthouse each day of their service to find out if they’re on a trial, jurors can call in to see if they need to attend.

In some other states, like California, it’s a one day, one trial system, where jurors are summoned for a given day and are either placed on a jury or dismissed. The next day, it’s a new pool of potential jurors.

Showing up

Another factor potentially driving down the rate of Minnesotans summoned each year is that people here tend to respond up when they’re told to at higher rates than in some places.

According to the Minnesota Judicial Branch, between 12 percent and 14 percent of Minnesotans have failed to show up when they’re summoned in the last three years, compared to as many as 50 percent in some courts, according to the National Center for State Courts.

While Minnesotans are less likely to be summoned for jury duty, they’re about as likely as anywhere else to actually serve on one, or at least they were in 2007, according to the National Center for State Courts, which found 0.7 percent of Minnesotans served on a jury in a given year, about the same as the national average.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the number of alternate jurors in the case. There will be two.