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Detroit federal court officials look to improve jury diversity

Sarah Hulett
Michigan Radio

The federal court that serves 32 counties in the eastern half of Michigan is changing its juror selection process in the hopes of improving jury diversity.

Judges on the bench say one of the main problems is a high rate of "undeliverable" mail in ZIP codes where minorities live. So starting this month, when mailings to potential jurors come back to the court, another mailing will go out to the same ZIP code.

"Because the undeliverable rate is so much greater in the minority ZIP codes, we expect that this will have the effect of increasing minority responses, and therefore increasing minority representation,” said Chief Judge Gerald Rosen.

Rosen says the court is also working on ways to make sure the lists of potential jurors it uses are accurate. The court pulls from voter rolls, as well as Michigan's driver's license and state ID lists. He says very few districts in the country have such expansive lists from which they draw potential jurors.

Miriam Siefer is the chief federal defender for the court.

"We're really talking about someone's ultimate liberty interests,” said Siefer. “Because clients here are charged with very serious offenses, and we know that there are very serious consequences if someone is convicted."

Sarah Hulett is Michigan Public's Director of Amplify & Longform, helping reporters to do their best work.