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Jury Duty – A Blockchain Solution Looking For A Problem

The right to trial by a jury of peers formed from and representing the diversity in a community is a unique feature of the U.S. legal system, along with numerous jurisdictions around the world. However, being called for jury service, notwithstanding the civic and patriotic duty being upheld, is to experience the very underbelly of government inefficiency. Hurry up and wait is an understatement for most aspiring jurors. Throughout the lifecycle of jury service, from identifying would be candidates who are inclined not to dodge the experience (at their own peril), to the day of jury selection and appearing before a judge in the voir dire process, the amount of friction, inefficiency and operational waste can be greatly simplified using blockchain, cryptocurrencies and digital identity solutions, among other tools in the digital transformation arsenal.

As the selection process begins, prospective jurors are asked key questions about their ability to serve, including whether their employers will compensate them for the time off. Budget a day for the widest part of the petit juror selection funnel and, if selected, between 3 and 5 days to sit on a jury bench while trials run through the motions. In grand jury cases, jurors can be empaneled for months. All in, the average per diem allocated to federal jurors for the process is $50.00, which in many cities and communities across the U.S. hardly covers the cost of round trip public transportation, let alone parking near courthouses or other encumbrances. The dividend on civic duty is generally worth the economic misalignment of incentives, but issuing a physical credit card with these nominal juror fees, along with all the attendant paper work, tracking and other documents produces a lot of waste and the occasional case of fraud. Moreover, this model adds to potential identity theft exposures by would be jurors, not to mention the inconvenience for many of activating these cards to recuperate such a nominal sum likely produces a large unclaimed remainder.

Surely to issue a credit card with such a low sum and presumably short lifecycle is a costlier proposition than the sum of money on the card and the sum of value derived by prospective jurors and the court system. While fully replacing this analog, paper-based approach with a technology-powered alternative risks creating a digital divide. The truth of the matter, based on the frustratingly long wait times as people’s downcast faces bask in the glow of smart phone screens, is that most jury candidates hold in their hands all the hardware and computing power they need for a more efficient jury selection, queuing and reimbursement model to take hold. The wasteful, inefficient and environmentally unfriendly single-use credit cards can be held on a declining glide path or for prospective jurors who are not as tech-savvy. This type of change would take much of the friction out of jury service and as gains in operating costs are made, perhaps enable courts to contemplate a more generous or means-adjusted financial model for the trouble.

Where blockchain, cryptocurrencies and digital identifiers enter the stage is as follows. For one, similar to how blockchain has found a natural home in supply chain management, a blockchain-powered jury selection system could track precisely where a juror is in the selection funnel. It can also track where they have to be and when, while granting them the opportunity to interface with this highly algorithmic, rules-based system in a convenient palm of your hands manner. Additionally, checking in, courtesy of time stamping in blockchain and near field computing, a feature enabled in most smart phones, could be as simple as entering the courthouse and going to the right designated areas, rather than queuing up in often absurdly long lines to receive instructions on where to wait next and pick up a physical credit card or other instructions. Receiving instructions, new juror orientations, which are typically videos shown in waiting rooms, can all be mobile enabled, allowing prospective jurors to “move about the cabin” a bit or wait outside on the often well-appointed grounds of courthouses across the country.

Even the voir dire process, where prospective jurors answer yay or nay questions revealing their potential biases and fitness to be empaneled can leverage this same platform. The alternative, handing out pencils and small sheets of paper where jurors are asked to record their juror number and their answers in sequence is not only slow, it is error-prone, as these physical papers are collected row after row in a courtroom and presented to the judge for triage. A paperless jury selection process would be possible all the way through initial identification of prospective jurors, through the voir dire process and, eventually, as jurors are chosen and must make the round trip commute until a verdict is rendered. An analog and inefficient juror selection system, largely based on trust and fulfillment of obligations, has a friend in blockchain technology and design principles. Engaged citizens need another risk-prone physical credit card about as much as the world needs giant centralized databases of personal information. Justice may be blind, but the public operations of the legal system should turn their gaze to the emerging civic and government technology field. Using technology to transform the jury selection process can spur greater civic engagement, participation and, dare we say, satisfaction in the process and outcomes.

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