Nearly half ignore jury summons in Philadelphia

Jurors waiting for their turn at the Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center. (Tom MacDonald

Jurors waiting for their turn at the Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center. (Tom MacDonald

Philadelphia, like many big cities, struggles to get people to show up for jury duty. Now, the city courts are looking for new tactics after fines did little good.

Forty-five percent of those who receive a summons in Philadelphia for jury duty disregard it completely, which means only 55 percent actually fill out the questionnaire, said Daniel Rendine,  jury commissioner.


“Included in that are a number, a great number, of undeliverables, mail which we got back,” he said. “So if you take off the undeliverables, we’re at 35 to 40 percent of non-responders.

“And even those who fill out the surveys don’t all show up on their appointed days.”

Greg Hurley of the National Center for State Courts said Philadelphia’s case is not unusual for big cities.

“It does sound like an ugly number,” he said. “I talk to jury managers on a daily basis … there are many far worse than Philadelphia, but it is not a good number, that’s certainly true.”

The best tactic is to put people on a jury, he said, because those who serve on a case mostly tell other’s it’s a worthwhile experience.

A few years ago, Philadelphia began fining those who skipped jury duty, but found many couldn’t afford the fine or to take a day off work.  

Philadelphia is also trying to switch to an online questionnaire that would be followed up via email instead of through the postal service.  It’s also trying a few perks, such as providing the coffee and doughnuts that were phased out a few years ago.

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