New York – Starting Monday, everyone who shows up for jury duty in New York will be handed a questionnaire that asks for their race and ethnic background.Join our WhatsApp group
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The intent — to make sure jury pools are a fair cross-section of their communities — is pure, but the execution comes across as a little “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The requirement was created by Judiciary Law Section 528, newly minted on June 25 by Gov. David Paterson’s signature.
In guidance sent out by the state Office of Court Administration, jury commissioners are instructed to hand out the information cards to jurors. They can say that the state requires them to collect the data, and the law is printed on the back of the card. They can advise jurors to use black or blue ink.
They are told not to say anything else about that card or why it’s being distributed and not to offer any opinions on why the data is being collected or how to answer the questions (other than truthfully). They’re told not to offer the jurors a chance to ask questions — and if they ask anyway, have them come to the front of the room to ask in private.
So why the change?
“The courts are acting in compliance with Judiciary Law 528, which goes into effect on Sept. 13,” said Kali Holloway, spokeswoman for the state Office of Court Administration. “We have to follow the law.”
Legal precedent holds that the Sixth Amendment, which guarantees the right to trial, requires that the pool from which jurors are called be a fair representation of the community where the crime is alleged to have occurred.
The questions on the new juror cards are pretty innocuous. Four of the seven are for demographic purposes; they ask if the juror is male or female; year of birth; if they’re of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin, with different boxes for different countries of origin; and race, with 15 options including “other” with a space for write-ins.
And yes, jurors are required to fill out the cards.