Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Special Jury Definition:

A jury drawn to certain specifications given the alleged complexities of the matter to be tried.

The 1997 edition of C.J.S. (Corpus Juris Secundum) suggests this definition of a special jury (the extract is slightly re-ordered for readability):

"A special jury is a jury ordered by the court in cases of unusual importance or intracacy, which is selected in a special way or has a special composition....  The object of a special jury is to procure a jury of persons of more than ordinary ability or having qualifications peculiarly adapted to the determination of a particular controversey.

"A special jury has sometimes been referred to as a Blue Ribbon jury, which has been defined as a jury consisting of highly qualified persons."

But note these remarks by Justice Jackson of the United States Supreme Court in Fay v New York:

"[W]e are dealing here with a very subtle and sophisticated form of discrimination which does not lend itself to easy or precise proof. The proof here is adequate enough to demonstrate that this panel, like every discriminatorily selected blue ribbon panel, suffers from a constitutional infirmity. That infirmity is the denial of equal protection to those who are tried by a jury drawn from a blue ribbon panel. Such a panel is narrower and different from that used in forming juries to try the vast majority of other accused persons. To the extent of that difference, therefore, the persons tried by blue ribbon juries receive unequal protection....

"[T]he distinction that is drawn in fact between blue ribbon jurors and general jurors is often of such a character as to destroy the representative nature of the blue ribbon panel. There is no constitutional right to a jury drawn from a group of uneducated and unintelligent persons. Nor is there any right to a jury chosen solely from those at the lower end of the economic and social scale. But there is a constitutional right to a jury drawn from a group which represents a cross-section of the community. And a cross-section of the community includes persons with varying degrees of training and intelligence and with varying economic and social positions. Under our Constitution, the jury is not to be made the representative of the most intelligent, the most wealthy or the most successful, nor of the least intelligent, the least wealthy or the least successful. It is a democratic institution, representative of all qualified classes of people. To the extent that a blue ribbon panel fails to reflect this democratic principle, it is constitutionally defective."

In Moore v New York, the same court:

"[B]lue ribbon panels — the systematic and intentional exclusion of all but the best or the most learned or intelligent of the general jurors. Such panels are completely at war with the democratic theory of our jury system, a theory formulated out of the experience of generations. One is constitutionally entitled to be judged by a fair sampling of all one's neighbors who are qualified, not merely those with superior intelligence or learning. Jury panels are supposed to be representative of all qualified classes. Within those classes, of course, are persons with varying degrees of intelligence, wealth, education, ability and experience. But it is from that welter of qualified individuals, who meet specified minimum standards, that juries are to be chosen. Any method that permits only the best of these to be selected opens the way to grave abuses. The jury is then in danger of losing its democratic flavor and becoming the instrument of the select few."


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