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Illinois Supreme Court Affirms Unconstitutionality Of Jury-Limiting Statute

By: Tina Paries, Income Member

Earlier this year, we wrote about a trial judge in Cook County who held that a statutory amendment limiting juries to 6 people was unconstitutional. As expected, the Illinois Supreme Court recently weighed in on the issue and affirmed the decision. Similar to the trial judge, the Illinois Supreme Court reviewed legislative history and found that because the size of the jury – 12 people – was an essential element of the right of trial by jury at the time the 1970 Constitution was drafted, the jury size is an element of the right that has been preserved and protected. As such, the amendment, which took away the right of a 12-person jury, is unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court, however, did not stop its analysis there. The Public Act amending the statute with the number of jurors also amended a statute governing compensation to be paid to jurors. The Supreme Court thus had to determine whether the unconstitutional statute could effectively be severed from the other amended statute.

Prior to the passage of the Public Act, the second statute provided that each county would pay to each juror either $4, $5, $10 or some higher amount per day of necessary attendance depending on the class of the county. The amendment, however, provided one rate of pay across the state: $25 for the first day and $50 thereafter. According to transcripts from the legislative debates, the purpose of the amendment was to make jury trials more efficient and to incentivize citizens to participate in jury duty. In order to offset the cost of increased payment for jurors, the legislature then reduced the number of jurors to 6.

The Supreme Court found that if the provision raising the amount to be paid to each juror remains valid while the provision reducing the size of the jury is invalidated, then the legislative purpose would be frustrated. Specifically, the cost of jury trials across the state would dramatically increase without any offset. The Supreme Court therefore held that the two amended statutes could not effectively be severed and found the second amended statute to also be invalid.

Based on the foregoing, the Public Act was stricken in its entirety and the statutes relating to the number of jurors and compensation to jurors remain what they were prior to the enactment of the amendment in June 2015. Litigants continue to enjoy the right to select between a 6-person and 12-person jury and jurors are compensated a daily rate in accordance with the amount designated by their particular county.

  • by Chris Hoffmann
  • posted at 12:09 PM
  • 10/26/2016