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Racial statistics alone don't prove that juries in McLean County are not impartial, even if the jury pools are disproportionately white.

But actions to expand the pool of potential jurors, so it more closely reflects the makeup of the community, should be considered.

A Pantagraph review of McLean County jury statistics showed that 2002-05 jury pools were less than 4 percent black while the 2000 census said blacks made up 6 percent of the county's population.

Even if a jury is full of dedicated, impartial people, a defendant might question the fairness of the decision if he or she doesn't think judgment is coming from a "jury of one's peers." But the popular phrase "jury of one's peers" appears in neither the U.S. Constitution nor the Illinois Constitution. Both documents refer only to an "impartial" jury. That's where the emphasis should remain.

Mike Williams, president of the Bloomington-Normal chapter of the NAACP, is concerned about the absence of minorities on many juries. Williams said, "Justice needs to be blind and impartial, but obviously it isn't."

If justice is "blind," then the color of the jurors shouldn't matter. And failure to have a jury pool whose ethnic/racial makeup is directly proportionate to the population is not, by itself, a sign of partiality.

An exact statistical cross-section is all but impossible. McLean County is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, but the census counts everyone living in the county - not just those eligible for juries. Jurors are required to be at least 18 years old and U.S. citizens. The citizenship requirement makes it difficult to obtain a proportionate number of jurors from largely immigrant groups, such as Hispanics.

Potential jurors in McLean County are identified through two methods: voter registration and drivers license lists. That is the common method in many states. The methodology excludes people who don't register to vote, don't have drivers licenses or move without updating their addresses.

There is no easy solution. It has been suggested that utility customer lists could be used. However, many apartment dwellers have utilities included in their rent rather than having their own accounts.

Tracking down people who don't respond to jury duty notices might expand the pool. McLean County follows up mailed notices with telephone calls. And if a person doesn't respond to a second jury call, the Sheriff's Department will personally serve them with a summons. But if a person has moved out of the county, that won't help.

It's up to judges and defense attorneys to ensure that potential jurors are not being improperly excluded from juries solely because of their race or ethnicity.

A fair and impartial jury - regardless of its racial makeup - should be the ultimate goal of all sides.


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