Home Possible Change in Illinois Civil Jury Size
When most people think of a jury, they have the classic image in their head of 12 average citizens in a box, listening thoughtfully as lawyers vigorously question witnesses and give impassioned arguments. But there’s nothing about the number “12” that’s magical or necessary to the way a jury functions, and the Illinois Legislature is poised to reduce the number of jurors who will oversee civil trials such as in personal injury lawsuits. (You can read more about the bill here.)
A bill that has already passed the House and Senate and is on its way to Gov. Quinn for his signature proposes to use six jurors in civil trials instead of the customary 12. That’s actually a practice that already is in use in Illinois civil cases when the plaintiff claims less than $50,000 in damages, unless someone asks for a 12-member jury. The bill would not affect the number of people serving on juries in criminal cases.
The rationale for smaller juries is that it could save time and costs in civil lawsuits, which can be lengthy and expensive both for the parties and for courts. When only six people must be selected for a jury, the process known as voir dire — when lawyers question potential jurors to eliminate ones with conflicts and narrow the pool down to the size needed for trial — should go quicker. That means fewer days spent in courts, and less time spent on each case means a court can handle more cases.
Less time in court also means that people who have been injured through someone else’s negligence can get justice more quickly. And for clients who are paying their lawyers by the hour, less time in court means less out-of-pocket attorney expenses they have to pay.
The bill is supported by the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, which is considered a pro-plaintiff group. The Illinois Defense Lawyers Association has opposed it, arguing that reducing the number of jurors would result in less debate when a jury deliberates the outcome of a case. Opponents also argue that fewer jurors would allow one person with strong opinions or emotions about the case to dominate deliberations and perhaps sway the rest of the jurors to a particular outcome. The decision in any civil case with six jurors still would have to be unanimous under the proposed law.
The bill also proposes to raise the pay that jurors receive for serving. Pay is pro-rated based on the population of a county, but falls between $4 and $10 under state law. Individual counties can set their jury compensation at higher amounts. Cook County currently pays jurors $17.20 per day to compensate them for expenses associated with serving, such as income lost because of time away from work. The bill proposes to raise jury pay to $25 per day for the first day, and $50 per day for any subsequent days.
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