The right to a fair trial with a jury of your peers has been upheld in this country for centuries. Almost every citizen over 18 in the country has been summoned to jury duty at some point in their lives, even if they get dismissed for whatever reason before they enter the court. That being said, there are people who should be eligible but find themselves disqualified due to the specific rules of their state, and that matters more than you might think.
See, it’s about the principle of the thing. Most people don’t rejoice when summoned for jury duty. It’s not considered a fun activity, we know – and we rely on juries to help our clients every day. But by being disqualified entirely tells you that you don’t count as a peer, that your input is invalid in the eyes of the state, and for individuals who already face discrimination and systemic oppression, that’s just a kick in the teeth. Luckily, it looks like Maryland is trying to set things right.
What are Maryland’s jury duty qualifications?
Maryland is working on a bill that would repeal a key part of the current qualifications of jury duty. As of right now, these are the requirements to be eligible for a summons:
- At least 18 years of age
- US citizen
- Reside in the county that would summon you
Nothing here is changing. Those are fairly basic qualifications, right? Nothing much to worry about there (though some believe non-citizens should be allowed to serve). Now, let’s take a look at what would disqualify someone in Maryland:
- Have a disability that would prevent you from serving (with a doctor’s note)
- Inability to read, write, speak, or understand English
- Convicted of a crime punishable by more than 1 year in prison or
- Has criminal charges pending for a crime punishable by more than 1 year in prison
You might be able to see where I’m going with this. The bill currently in the works would repeal those last two bullet points, which is a huge step forward for disenfranchised citizens. Put simply, those disqualifications are entirely arbitrary and serve only to distance people who have done their time from the rest of the world.
As it stands, even with only a misdemeanor (that doesn’t even disqualify you from voting), if you’re in prison for more than a year you’re considered disqualified, and that just doesn’t make sense. Something as common and relatively mild like a first-offense DUI would disqualify you from ever serving in a jury. This damaging law disproportionately affects the black community in Maryland, given that they make up 70% of our prison population despite only making up 31% of the entire state, further pushing the narrative that they are not peers. It also ensures those who have already received their justice and reformed maintain a status of “other” in society, both amongst themselves and to the rest of Maryland’s citizens.
For a jury to be made up of peers, it needs to include people from all circumstances and all walks of life. Ex-convicts are real people. Their situations can happen to anyone. They have real opinions and real input that deserves to be counted. Any concerns about bias can be addressed individually, but having a blanket disqualification just in case does nothing but further the gap between the law and the citizens it is meant to protect.
So yes, this is very good news. By repealing those disqualifications, Maryland is acknowledging the personhood and validity of these people and sewing another stitch to close that gap. Our country as a whole has a long way to go regarding restorative justice and unfair laws against marginalized community, but at the very least we can see our state is working on it.
The legal team at Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law, works hard to make sure our clients are treated fairly and humanely as we fight for their rights and freedom. Our Annapolis criminal defense attorneys will work to make sure you never have to deal with this, regardless of whether or not the bill in question passes, whether you’ve been arrested for a DUI or something more severe. We’re here for you in Annapolis and Ellicott City for your convenience. For more information on how we work for you, call us today at 410-271-1892 or fill out our online contact form.
And remember — Keep Calm and Call Drew.