Rochester district judge issues ‘corrective action’ to improve jury pool training – Post Bulletin

know about Rochester district judge issues ‘corrective action’ to improve jury pool training – Post Bulletin

ROCHESTER — A Rochester judge ordered a change to the jury selection process Monday in response to concerns that the racial makeup of juries does not at all reflect Minnesota’s diversity.

“Minnesota’s population continues to become more plural,” writes Third Judicial District Chief Judge Joseph Bueltel in his


. “The representativeness of the district’s jury panels needs improvement… These corrective actions are aimed at increasing the representativeness of the district’s jury panels and increasing the response rate of jurors summoned throughout the district.”

The order requires that jury summons and questionnaire forms in the 3rd District, which includes Rochester, be translated into languages ​​other than English, such as Spanish, Somali, Hmong, and Karen, a language native to the area of ​​Myanmar and Thailand, and having these are available online.

It also edits the language on the form to clarify that an exact level of English language ability is not required, and instead jurors must go to court to discuss their eligibility with the judge if they are unsure.

Third District Court Senior Administrator and Jury Commissioner Shelley Ellefson, who will oversee the implementation of these changes, said Thursday that she is not sure what the process will entail, but will work with the state court administrator’s office to find out. determine next steps. .

The Post Bulletin has reached out to Bueltel and the State Court Administration for comment, but they declined to respond, saying they would prefer to let the order speak for itself.

This development is the result of a

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formal letter

sent in April to Bueltel from the Third District Fairness and Justice Committee. The letter, which said people of color are substantially underrepresented at every stage of the jury selection process, called on Bueltel to take steps to “improve longstanding and glaring racial disparities.”

The Committee for Equality and Justice made six recommendations to improve the problem, such as sending jury summons more than once and providing courtroom interpreters for non-native English speakers.

The Post Bulletin reported on CEJ’s work as part of an in-depth investigation into the jury selection process in April. Bueltel’s order implements one of the committee’s recommendations.

Cresston Gackle, Assistant Public Defender with the Third District Public Defender’s Office, helped draft the letter and said he is pleased with the outcome, especially since Bueltel’s order allows anyone who can communicate orally in English to participate in the process. of the jury.

“There are a lot of people who can do exactly that and they shouldn’t be disqualified from serving on juries and making decisions on behalf of the community,” Gackle said. “Courts must recognize that there is a lot of mistrust and history between minority populations and the justice system. The least we can do to make people feel welcome and wanted is to speak in their native language.”

Bueltel’s request is historic. Two attorneys said this is the first time, to their knowledge, that a Minnesota chief judge has used this authority, even though precedent is written into law.

Corey Sherman, director of training for the public defender system, said she was encouraged to see a chief judge order a change, but said she is disappointed that the other five CEJ recommendations have been denied, some of which were denied. due to cost and possible technological problems.

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“Any time we venture to change a system, there will be costs and obstacles, but it’s worth taking on to create an inclusive system,” Sherman said. “I hope the order encourages other districts to take a hard look at their systems to find ways to increase access to our jury system. I also hope that we are not afraid to abandon outdated and unfair systems simply because we cannot immediately figure out how to create new ones.”

Gackle said he expects more changes in the future. He already had talks about jury inclusion, but he said the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis put racial equity higher on the justice system’s agenda. It has become clear that many Minnesotans of color “have no confidence in the whole system,” Gackle said.

Cresston Gackle

Cresston Gackle, Assistant Public Defender for the Third District Public Defender’s Office, helped draft the letter to Chief Judge Joseph Bueltel requesting changes to the jury selection process.

Contributed / Cresston Gackle

Gackle is not the only one working hard on this issue. He said the defense in Minnesota has organized several presentations on racial equity and the importance of representative juries to the public trust.

“You will find that everyone who works in the justice system, at some level, wants everyone to have confidence in the results that we achieve in the justice system,” he said.

In the future, Gackle hopes this push will lead to the jury issue being addressed at the state level as well, by increasing jury pay, for example, so more jurors can participate regardless of financial means. In five to 10 years, he wants to see non-native English speakers seamlessly participate in the jury process.

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“The status quo is unacceptable,” he said. “We can’t wait for more data… We can’t just test our case back and forth again. That’s not enough. We have to take some level of action.”

In Olmsted County, the percentage of black residents on the jury is 59% lower than it should be, to reflect the composition of the local population.

Although the jury selection process appears to be racially neutral, jury summons are sent out to a random selection of people and, after questioning about possible bias, a 12-person jury is selected from the group and take an oath However, racial disparities in the jury box continue.

Some matters are administrative. The master source list of all potential Minnesota jurors is compiled by merging voter registration records and driver’s license records (including state IDs), two sources in which white Minnesotans are more heavily represented than white Minnesotans. not white. Many residents do not receive their summons because it is sent to an old address.

Jury service is a financial burden for many, which is why some jurors are excluded due to financial hardship. In some Minnesota counties, the daily jury fee doesn’t even cover the cost of parking. The court rules also disqualify potential jurors who have been convicted of a felony and are incarcerated or on parole, disproportionately targeting people of color who are arrested at higher rates.

Although the problem was recognized by the state court system in the 1990s and again in 2021, few recommended solutions have been implemented.