- Associated Press - Monday, May 22, 2017

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) - Two judges in Illinois say a new pilot program aimed at ensuring minorities are well represented in local jury pools will be “revolutionary.”

Peoria, Rock Island, St. Clair, Sangamon and Winnebago counties will gather demographics on their jury pools for the next year and then use ZIP codes to make sure they get a diverse group based on population, the Journal Star (https://bit.ly/2qHwhR5 ) reported.

“Not too many communities have done it this way,” said Chief Judge Paul Gilfillan.

Tazewell County Judge Steve Kouri, a former chief judge, agreed.

“It’s so easy that many have asked why haven’t we tried this before,” Kouri said.

Two felony trials within the past year were halted during the jury selection process due to underrepresentation. It’s unclear how many more might’ve also been affected.

Defense attorney Chris McCall said the program can’t begin soon enough.

“It’s a problem of optics,” McCall said. “When you have someone who is standing trial and their lives or their constitutional rights are at jeopardy, they want people who might understand their background and their lives to be the ones to determine their future.”

Kouri, who pushed for the program, said there are a number of people who don’t help out investigations because they believe the system isn’t fair.

“We have a segment of the population who think the system is rigged, slanted and a number of those aren’t people who are defendants,” Kouri said. “And when they think that, they don’t cooperate with investigations. It’s very important that people think a verdict at trial, guilty or not guilty, is legitimate.”

Peoria County is about 18 percent black, and the goal is to have the same percent in the jury pool. Gilfillan said that doesn’t mean all necessarily will make it on the actual jury.


Information from: Journal Star, https://pjstar.com

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