In New York jury pools, blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented around the state where they make up a sizable portion of the population, according to a recent report from the Office of Court Administration.
The report, the first of its kind in New York, compared the racial makeup of jury pools in counties over the last year to the demographics of each county. The data was based on nearly 500,000 jurors in trial courts and grand juries who completed demographic information cards.
The jury pool data over a 12-month period ending in September showed blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented in many counties where they constitute more than 10 percent of the adult over-18 population, even in some New York City boroughs.
Black residents of Erie County, home to Buffalo, are underrepresented by 42 percent, as they make up 12 percent of the population, but 7 percent of juries. Monroe County, where Rochester is located, blacks are underrepresented in juries by 38 percent. In the mostly white borough of Staten Island, blacks are underrepresented by 30 percent.
Meanwhile, Hispanics were underrepresented in jury pools for each New York City borough, Long Island and Westchester, among other counties.
Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau's report was the result of a 2010 law requiring a survey of New York's jury pools to determine whether jurors represent a fair cross-section of the population. Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn, Assemblyman Rory Lancman of Queens and state Sen. Jeff Klein of the Bronx--all Democrats--were the bill's sponsors.
The hard data in the OCA study is deeply disturbing and shows that the court system in New York City is not working hard enough to bring in peers as diverse as the communities that Assemblyman Lancman and I serve, said Jeffries.
There are, however, counties with jury pools that match their racial makeup. In the Bronx and Brooklyn, the jury population and the over-18 population are the same for blacks. In Queens and Manhattan, there is a gap between the black population of the boroughs and the jury pool, but not as wide as other counties.
The report notes that courtroom dynamics, such as the counsel or the judge, affect the composition of juries. Still, the requirements to be eligible for jury duty may explain why jury pools in some counties are less diverse than the general population.
An eligible juror must be at least 18 years old, a citizen, able to communicate and understand English and free of any felony convictions. Also, those incarcerated are counted as residents in counties where their prisons are located, which is mainly in rural communities.
The lack of detailed data makes it impossible to precisely calculate the impact that the statutory requirements... have on racial and ethnic makeup of the eligible jury pool, the report said. There is no doubt, however, that in many counties these statutory eligibility requirements do have an impact.