CHARLESTON - A survey of West Virginian jurors shows that the people who routinely render crucial courtroom decisions, as a whole closely reflect the state's demographics.
The Administrative Office of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals announced the findings as it observes "Juror Appreciation Month."
According to the Supreme Court, more than 66,000 West Virginians drawn from the jury pool completed juror qualification questionnaires, answering questions regarding their ethnicity, race, gender and age. The survey, taken in 2004, indicates that race and age of jurors, for instance, are consistent with the state's population.
In the 2004 U.S. Census report, the population of West Virginia was approximately 95 percent Caucasian. The remaining 5 percent was estimated at being less than 1 percent each of African-Americans, Native Americans and Asians.
In the juror survey, 65.4 percent reported their race as white. Black respondents comprised 1.3 percent and Asians comprised 2 percent.
The percentages indicate a response rate of less than 70 percent in the question of race.
All of the survey's participants did not ultimately serve on juries, but they did make it as far as the jury selection process for trials, the Supreme Court's report states.
On the question of age, the census report further indicates that 15.3 percent of West Virginians that year fit into the "65 years and over" age category. Of the juror qualification survey respondents, 13.7 percent marked their age as falling in the "Over 70" block.
During Juror Appreciation Month, the Supreme Court recognizes the sacrifices West Virginia jurors make of their time and, often, their finances, to perform this civic duty.
In West Virginia, while employers must allow employees to be excused from work for jury duty, they are not required to pay employees' wages while they serve.
Jurors, who are chosen randomly from lists of registered voters and licensed drivers, are paid a $40 per day stipend. They are responsible for their own meals as well as parking expenses and any other incidental spending that arises.
"The people are at the heart of our system of government," said West Virginia's Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis. "Nowhere is this more evident than when juries render decisions in courtroom after courtroom throughout the nation. Indeed, juries are the people in action, case by case, delivering some of the most important decisions that make our country truly a government of the people, for the people, and by the people."
Justice Larry V. Starcher praised jurors' competence.
"During my twenty years as a West Virginia trial judge, I have never doubted the wisdom of entrusting decisions to juries," he said. "The collective wisdom and conscience of a group of ordinary citizens is fairer than any expert or judge. I salute our juries and our jury system."
Information regarding jury service in West Virginia is available in detail at http://www.state.wv.us/wvsca/, the West Virginia Court System's Supreme Court page.
Follow the link titled "Jury Information" for a jury duty handbook, frequently asked questions, previous years' summary reports on West Virginia juries, and other information relevant to "Juror Appreciation Month."