Published on: Sunday, May 30, 2021

Judges have a new question to consider as they ramp up in-person trials during the pandemic: whether prospective jurors can be asked about their vaccination status (article available here).

Asking about vaccination status could give insight into jurors’ worldview and help the court from a safety perspective, but it could be seen as intrusive or as a proxy for asking about a juror’s politics. “It’s a very fluid area right now,” said Kimberly Mueller, chief judge of the Eastern District of California.

Jurors could be asked as part of pre-selection questionnaires or while they’re checking in, which could provide the court with useful information for health and safety. Alternatively, the question might get raised during voir dire—the jury selection process.

“Something as salient in 2021 as the decision to intentionally remain unvaccinated is telling no matter the type of case,” said CEO of jury research technology company JurorSearch. “On the voir dire side, it’s incredibly insightful about the personality traits of those that choose to remain unvaccinated.” A juror’s answer to that question could show potential “hostility toward scientific authority and the relative value of the individual versus society.”

At least one court has said it will ask jurors about vaccination status in its jury questionnaire. The Northern District of Mississippi on May 3 issued an order saying it would inquire about jurors’ vaccination status through its jury administrator. Answering is voluntary, the court said, and will be shared with both parties.