Iowa's Chief Justice Wants to Modernize Jury Selection

Jan 13, 2016

Iowa’s Chief Justice Mark Cady is calling on the state to pay closer attention to who serves on juries as a way of reducing racial disparities in the criminal justice system. During his annual Condition of the Judiciary address on Wednesday, Cady told lawmakers one of the ways Iowa can work to combat inequality is to track and maintain data on the racial composition of juries.

"The internal data will help us determine if [the] jury selection process we use could be improved," says Cady.

Cady also wants to update the state's jury-selection software, to assure jury pools are a fair cross-section of each community.

During his Condition of the State address this week, Gov. Terry Branstad also said he wants to address racial disparities, and highlighted the chief justice's work on this issue, such as training on implicit bias for judges and magistrates. However, some lawmakers question if the solution lies in reforms to the justice system, or perhaps the focus should be centered on broader socio-economic issues like poverty and education.

"Every time I have this conversation with either the executive branch, or as I did last night with a group of appellate justices, I challenge them to say, ‘What do we need to do legislatively to write laws that don’t result in this disparity?’” says State Rep. Chip Baltimore, a Republican from Boone who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. "I get generally, a deer-in-the-headlights look that there’s not a whole look that we can craft in terms of legislation that would be different."

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, black inmates make up 23-percent of Iowa’s prison population, while African-Americans make up only three-percent of the entire state's population. 

In his speech, the chief justice also discussed sex trafficking in Iowa, calling for a prompt and coordinated effort to identify victims and provide both services and protection.

“We can no longer view human trafficking as a problem reserved for major cities in America,” says Cady. “It exists as a dark underworld in many communities across Iowa and is associated with some of Iowa’s most iconic places and events.”

Cady says the judicial branch is providing training on human trafficking to judges, juvenile court officers, and law enforcement.  The head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Steve Sodders, agrees Iowa needs to find better ways to aid survivors victimized by sex traffickers.

“I’ve always been one to believe that especially in areas of prostitution, that every prostitute is a victim,” says Sodders, who is also a deputy sheriff in Marshall County. “I think we need to do a better job of maybe increasing penalties on people who would prey on young women or young men, and put them in a prostitution ring.”

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center says there were 30 human trafficking cases in Iowa last year. These cases may include multiple victims, as trafficking is most commonly found in brothels or among domestic workers.