Bills to enhance Michigan jury process, strengthening Sixth Amendment protections


LANSING, Mich., April 25, 2024 State Reps. Amos O’Neal (D-Saginaw), Kara Hope (D- Holt), Penelope Tsernoglou (D-East Lansing), Jimmie Wilson, Jr. (D-Ypsilanti) and Stephanie A. Young (D-Detroit) introduced a jury reform bill package yesterday. These bills enhance Michigander criminal defendants’ right to an impartial jury.

“I originally started working on this package with the Jury Task Force, a task force put together by former state Sen. Jim Ananich, about two years ago. It’s been a long road to get to today,” O’Neal said, chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Corrections and spearhead of this package. “I am committed to the integrity of our justice system in Michigan. This jury bill package ensures every Michigander has a fair trial. Enhancing the jury selection process strengthens our commitment to a fair and just system. These bills are not just a reinforcement of existing rights; they are an advancement of them and an advancement for all Michigan courts.”

Those who are criminally accused have the right to a fair and public trial through the Sixth Amendment in the U.S. Constitution. One of the critical factors guaranteed in the right to a trial is an impartial jury by members of their peers. Juries are the fact finders and play the most important role — assessing the evidence and determining the verdict.

“Our goal is to ensure that every Michigander has access to a fair and public trial. These bills will help do exactly that,” said Tsernoglou, former defense attorney. “By fostering more accurate and diverse representation on juries, expanding the number of eligible jurors, and creating a more localized list for potential jurors, we can make Michigan a more fair and just state.”

This bill package implements recommendations made by Michigan’s Jury Task Force. The changes include creating a statewide jury management system run by the State Court Administrative Office (SCAO). These bills would require SCAO to develop a standard questionnaire language, including information on race and ethnicity to help collect data to further understand the Michigan jury selection process. The bill package would amend Michigan’s jury selection process to a one-step system, combining qualification questionnaires and the jury summons in the same mailing, with instructions for jurors to return.

As chair of the Criminal Justice Committee, I know that we can always do better when it comes to equity and equality in our criminal justice system,” said Hope, a former practicing attorney. “I’m proud to sponsor a bill in this package. It builds on the task force’s work. These bills will move Michigan forward by ensuring that every citizen facing trial is judged by a truly representative jury. This is a significant step towards a more equitable justice system in Michigan.

This package also would allow individuals who were formerly incarcerated to now qualify to serve on a jury, and adds the ability for a juror to waive pay for their service in jury duty. This money will then return back into the court’s operating budget for further use for juror compensation and reimbursement. 

“High on my priorities is making our criminal justice system better. These jury reform bills ensure that those who face trial are represented by a jury of their peers,” said Wilson, chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Judiciary. “These bills collectively make sure there are more mechanisms in place to have a diverse and appropriate jury. It is important to enhance fairness and ensure justice within Michigan courts.”

“We’re making these changes to the judicial process to ensure that jury selection is fairer and more balanced. The right to be tried by a jury of your peers means that the available jurors should reflect a broad spectrum of the population. Participation on a jury is a part of our civic duty, and these bills will increase representation in the selection process. This package is another example of smart policy decisions to reform the criminal justice system. This is a win for fairness and equity for all Michiganders,” said state Rep. Stephanie A. Young (D-Detroit). 

The bill package fosters a more accurate and diverse representation of juries, expands the number of eligible jurors and creates a more localized list for potential jurors, and protects the rights of those accused by strengthening Michiganders’ access to an impartial jury made up of their peers. Though an impartial jury is already constitutionally protected, these bills will ensure Michiganders’ rights are protected at the highest caliber.