Jury service is an integral component of the United States’ legal system. In Texas, juror selection occurs in counties by selecting names from a randomized list of residents (compiled by the Texas Secretary of State) who are registered to vote or hold a driver’s license or Texas identification card.
Current Jury Duty Practices and Response Rates in Harris County
Currently in Harris County, a prospective juror is summoned to jury service through a mailed letter. The prospective juror is then required to respond to their summons through pre-registration. Pre-registration was implemented as part of the electronic e-Juror system in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which allows jurors to pre-register through email, online, or by phone. This confirms that the prospective juror receives the summons and allows that juror to learn more about the details of the service requested, like where and when service will take place. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, jurors in Harris County were summoned through a mailed letter which assigned jurors a date of appearance. Prospective jurors are also permitted to claim an exemption to participating in jury duty.
Despite the importance of jury service, juror response rates are notoriously low throughout the country, and diversity in jury pools is also lacking. Harris County’s juror response rate in 2018-2020 was around 20%, and African Americans and Hispanics were disproportionately underrepresented in the pool of respondents. African Americans make up 22% of Harris County residents over the age of 18 but comprised only 16% of jurors who appeared after being summoned in 2018-2020. Similarly, Hispanics over the age of 18 make up 29% of Harris County residents but comprised only 19% of jurors who appeared after being summoned in 2018-2020.
Figure 1 demonstrates the percentage of jurors who appeared after being summoned in 2018-2020 compared to the proportion of residents in Harris County by race/ethnicity. Residents accounted for in Harris County are only those who are eligible for jury service (over the age of 18 and US citizens).
Best Practices for Increasing Juror Appearance and Diversity Rates
Courts around the country have implemented various strategies with the objective of increasing juror appearance and diversity rates. Though few systematic studies have been conducted to determine which strategies are the most effective, research by the Analyst’s Office indicates that juror pay increases are more successful in improving juror turnout and diversity of jury pools when implemented alongside other strategies. Two of the most promising strategies include following up with reminders on jury summons (with or without penalties) and conducting targeted outreach and education programs with community members and organizations, with a specific focus on minority communities.
Proposed Jury Duty Practices and Goals in Harris County
In March 2021, the Harris County District Clerk’s Office (DCO) submitted a request to the Harris County Commissioners Court to increase juror pay from $6 on the first day of jury duty and $40 on subsequent days to $50 on the first day and $80 on subsequent days. The DCO’s request was based on a survey and focus groups of Harris County residents conducted by January Advisors among African Americans and Hispanics in Harris County. January Advisors found that 82% of Hispanic participants and 74% of African American participants would be more likely to respond to jury duty if they were paid $40 on the first day—this would aid with improving the diversity of jurors. January Advisors also recommended that the DCO make travel easier by providing parking and rideshare vouchers.
To date, Harris County has not increased juror pay; however, the DCO worked with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to develop a Juror Participation Plan, which provides several strategies for improving the juror experience. Phase 1 of the Juror Participation Plan was introduced during the June 8, 2021 Commissioners Court and includes providing meal vouchers, free parking, distinct signage for juror parking, free coffee, and launching an awareness campaign.
The DCO is currently working to implement additional strategies to increase appearance and diversity rates in future phases of the Juror Participation Plan.
Read our full memo on juror pay here.
 Texas State statute permits an individual to be exempted from jury service if they are over 70 years of age; have legal custody of a child younger than 12 years of age and their service on the jury requires leaving the child without adequate supervision; are a student of public or private secondary school; are a person enrolled and in actual attendance at an institution of higher education; are an officer or an employee of the Senate, the House of Representatives, or any department, commission, board, office, or other agency in the legislative branch of state government; are summoned for service and have served as a petit juror in Harris County during the current jury wheel reconstitution period; are the primary caretaker of a person who is unable to care for himself or herself; or are a member of the United States military forces serving on active duty and deployed to a location away from their home station and out of their county of residence.