Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • ♪ ("LAST WEEK TONIGHT" THEME PLAYS) ♪

  • Moving on. Our main story tonight concerns jury duty.

  • A summons for which is one of the things you least want to

  • find in the mail, aside from maybe a bill, or a human toe.

  • And please, a pinky?

  • Call me when you're serious enough to send a middle piggy

  • then maybe we'll talk business.

  • Complaining about jury duty has long been

  • a beloved American past time.

  • Just watch this caller to a 90's local TV show,

  • delights the host with his whining.

  • GREG: They put us down in this holding pen,

  • they call it "the jury assembly room."

  • -Yeah. -GREG: The J-A-R, the JAR.

  • They stick you in this JAR, with like 300 other people

  • -for a whole week. -Oh man.

  • GREG: And I think it's like being in jail only

  • jail is a whole lot better because jail is a lot cleaner

  • -and has much better lighting. -Oh.

  • GREG: And we have to pay for our own food,

  • and we don't get to go outside, and we don't get free HBO

  • and we don't get to talk as much and we don't get healthcare

  • and we don't get conjugal visits--

  • You don't get any of that stuff?

  • GREG: We don't get any of that.

  • Now, he's actually right.

  • You don't get conjugal visits while waiting to be called

  • at jury duty. Although, judging from that call,

  • being at jury duty isn't that caller's primary obstacle

  • in that department.

  • As for not getting HBO I don't know what

  • he's complaining about there, they don't even give me free HBO

  • and I'm actively ruining it.

  • Now that man, Greg, was a regular caller to that show.

  • And I know that because we got curious about him after

  • watching that clip, and it turns out, he's a lot.

  • For example, Greg has a website where you can find classic

  • 'Gregism's' like, "Environmentalism is evil,"

  • or "The Baptists are the pin in the Homo Grenade."

  • Incidentally "Gregism's," isn't even a term I made up,

  • it's an actual section of his website.

  • We could honestly spend the rest of this show on Greg,

  • but sadly, we do have to move on.

  • Because, the important thing about jury duty--

  • You know what, just one more thing about Greg.

  • He's been tweeting, "It's almost time to have

  • a great hashtag-weekend everyone! Who's with me?"

  • every Friday, for the last very, many Fridays.

  • And read the room Greg!

  • No one has great hashtag-weekends anymore.

  • We're all sitting at home watching the days blur together

  • in a miserable hashtag-TIMESOUP.

  • But while it might sound cliché, serving on a jury really is

  • an essential civic duty. The right to a trial

  • by an impartial "jury of your peers," is enshrined

  • in the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution.

  • But the truth is, while your peers are supposed to be

  • chosen from a fair cross-section of society,

  • people of color are routinely excluded.

  • According to a study of 14 federal district courts,

  • under representation of the Latino and African American

  • populations is ubiquitous. Which is a problem

  • with huge implications for juries.

  • This social psychologist staged mock cases,

  • where some juries were all white,

  • and others were racially diverse.

  • And found that the diverse ones operated more fairly

  • and deliberated more comprehensively.

  • In this study they raise more facts from the trial,

  • they discuss a broader range of information,

  • they discuss the information more accurately,

  • actually in discussing the facts of the case.

  • They're more willing to have uncomfortable conversations

  • about controversial issues, like those involved in race

  • and racial profiling.

  • Yeah. It turns out juries are sort of like

  • presidents of the Spokane, WA chapter of the NAACP.

  • When they're entirely white,

  • things tend to go south, fast.

  • And this is reflected in the real world.

  • Researchers who examined felony trials in Florida

  • found juries formed from all white pools convict

  • Black defendants a full 16 percentage points more often

  • than they do white defendants. But,

  • that gap in conviction rates is entirely eliminated

  • when the poll includes at least one Black member.

  • And that's one of those facts that you probably assumed

  • was true, even though you wish it wasn't.

  • Like the fact that dogs don't really enjoy music,

  • or that Sean Penn's new wife is a year younger

  • than his daughter.

  • So tonight, let's take a look at why juries are so often

  • unrepresentative, and what we can do about it.

  • And the whole process starts with

  • what's called "a jury wheel," a pool of potential jurors

  • in a community. It used to be an actual wheel.

  • And for many years, Black people were

  • explicitly excluded from them. And even after

  • the Civil Rights Act of 1875 said you couldn't discriminate

  • against jurors based on race, many officials would still

  • find ways to remove them, like by printing their names

  • on different colored paper, so they could be avoided

  • during the supposedly random drawings.

  • And while thankfully, that doesn't happen anymore,

  • our current system has many flaws, that can end up

  • having a similar result. For instance, nowadays,

  • jury wheels are often computerized lists gathered

  • from voter registration and driver license records.

  • But there's a big problem there,

  • as this public defender in New Orleans explains.

  • Not everybody's registered to vote,

  • and not everybody owns a car, and has a driver's license.

  • The problem is when we use voter registration

  • or DMV records, we're probably excluding

  • around 35 percent of New Orleanians.

  • Right, 35 percent of people are excluded there.

  • And being registered to vote and owning a car

  • doesn't affect whether you're qualified to serve on a jury,

  • it just affects how much money you probably spend

  • on bumper stickers.

  • Bumper stickers! Think of them as traffic twitter.

  • That's not a compliment.

  • And the exclusions don't stop there.

  • Most states ban people with felony convictions,

  • and with juror pay being incredibly low,

  • lower income people can be unable to afford to take part.

  • Both of which disproportionately exclude people of color.

  • So inherently, the system is already biased.

  • And that's before you even get into the mistakes

  • that jury summoning systems can make, which to be fair,

  • can sometimes, be pretty fun.

  • I got "Jerry" duty.

  • I said, "What's 'Jerry' duty?"

  • "Summons for "Jerry"-- "Jerry" Service."

  • If you're picked then you go up to the judge and then you say

  • if they're guilty or not guilty.

  • Yeah, Jacob got jury duty. And while I can't believe

  • And while I can't believe he found Casey Anthony not guilty,

  • that's what he and his "Jerry" decided,

  • and we just need to live with that.

  • But some errors are significantly less fun.

  • For instance in Connecticut, it emerged

  • that their jury selection computer program

  • had accidentally read the 'd' in Hartford

  • to mean 'deceased.' So for nearly three years,

  • it never summoned anyone from Hartford,

  • or indeed, New Britain, the second largest city

  • in that district because their list of names

  • had been accidentally misplaced,

  • and was never entered into the program.

  • And the thing is, those two missing cities accounted for

  • 63 percent of African Americans in the district,

  • and 68 percent of the Hispanic population.

  • Which is horrible! 'Cause if you're going to

  • forget a town in Connecticut, why not forget Danbury?

  • Because, and this is true, fuck Danbury!

  • From its charming railway museum,

  • to its historic Hearthstone Castle,

  • Danbury, Connecticut, can eat my whole ass.

  • I know exactly three things about Danbury.

  • USA Today ranked it the second-best city to live in

  • in 2015. It was once the center of the American hat industry,

  • and if you're from there, you've got a standing invite

  • to come get a thrashing from John Oliver,

  • children included, fuck you.

  • Now, that Hartford error was made by the government's

  • own system. But many courts, actually contract out

  • their jury selection to companies like these,

  • who promise to run the process cheaper and more effectively.

  • But private companies can be surprisingly unreliable.

  • Take what happened outside Tulsa, Oklahoma,

  • where a Black man was tried by an all-white jury

  • drawn from a pool of 200 jurors without