PROVO — After noticing a trend in the ethnic makeup of juries, an attorney in Utah County is calling into question the fairness of the jury-selection process.

Attorney Michael Esplin argued Tuesday that juries in 4th District Court don't have a representative number of Hispanic residents based on the county population percentages.

Esplin is arguing that all defendants are entitled to a jury of their peers. And that can't happen if the state does not have a better way to gather and keep track of the ethnicity of the population.

"We've raised what we think to be a legitimate issue," Esplin said. "Based upon data, we have reason to believe (Hispanics are) underrepresented."

The issue was explored Tuesday during an evidentiary hearing.

This issue, although tied to the two cases involving Esplin's clients — neither of whom is Hispanic — could have huge implications, said 4th District Judge Lynn Davis.

"This (issue) has huge implications because it attacks the jury system of the entire state," said Davis.

In compiling a statewide jury pool, state agencies gather information from driver's license and voter-registration forms, Esplin said. However, providing information about ethnicity on such forms is voluntary.

Jury questionnaires from 4th District Court ask about jury availability and previous felony convictions — but not race.

Davis didn't make any ruling Tuesday but will hear oral arguments on Aug. 22.

If Davis opts to rule in Esplin's favor, it could prevent any jury trial in the state until the system is fixed. It could also open the door for appeals of old jury trials — within an appropriate window of time.

Vincent Fu, a professor of sociology at the University of Utah, testified that census data show Utah's Hispanic population of adults 20 years and older is nearly 8 percent of the population.

But Utah's master jury list — the pool of potential jurors — shows the Hispanic population at 4 percent.

Some discrepancy could be the result of illegal immigrants who don't have drivers' licenses and don't register to vote, Davis said.

The Utah County Attorney's Office said, given the lists they have, the system is working fine.

"What they're alleging, in essence, is that the state is somehow systematically excluding Hispanics," said Deputy Utah County Attorney Randy Kennard. "(But) the state of Utah is doing the best they can (to) include all people. We want Hispanic and Latino people on our jury. They are a very important part of our community."


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