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Bill would lower jury age to 18

April 16, 2003
By: Sara Bondioli
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB44, HB151, HB238, HB256, SB105

JEFFERSON CITY - Eighteen-year-olds can die in Iraq for their country, but they can't serve on juries in Missouri. Several Missouri legislators hope to change that.

Shortly after the United States lowered the voting age to 18 in 1971, most states lowered their jury age to 18. Thirty-two years later, Missouri and Mississippi are the only states that still require jurors to be 21, according to the Missouri Bar.

"If there was really a problem with it... (other states) would've changed the law back to 21 and not one state has," said Judge Timothy J. Wilson, a circuit judge for St. Louis City and supporter of the age change.

Wilson said federal courts, including those in Missouri, have 18 as the minimum jury age. While he served in Missouri's federal courts, he appreciated the contributions of 18- to 21-year-olds.

"They blended in and added a fresh perspective," he said.

Rep. Curt Dougherty, D-Jackson County, said Missourians will look back on this issue in 30 years and not believe the state prohibited 18- to 21-year-olds from serving on juries.

"Here we have people who are 18 to 21 years old that operate some of the most powerful military machinery on the planet, and yet we can't put them on a jury seems just absolutely ridiculous," he said.

Sen. John Loudon, R-St. Louis County, said he is "skeptical but open minded" on the subject.

In regards to those in the military who cannot serve on juries, Loudon said it is something to think about. But, he said, those people also are not allowed to purchase alcohol.

He said jurors are expected to deliberate the facts of a case and not be influenced by outside opinions. However, military members are taught to perform one task and follow orders.

"I worry about one thing more than any others and that is the question of how serious people take their role and how they might be kinda maneuvered," Loudon said.

He fears jurors may acquit a defendant, even if the defendant is guilty, because they don't agree with the law.

Drew Crawford, legislative assistant for the Associated Students of the University of Missouri, has been lobbying for lowering the jury age.

"If students can be tried as an adult at the age of 18 then by all means they should be able to have a jury of peers," Crawford said.

The Missouri Bar also supports lowering the jury age, according to Catherine Barrie of its senior legislative council.

Rep. Bryan Stevenson, R-Joplin, said opponents have argued that 18- to 21-year-olds lack maturity and life experience.

"There are probably some that are immature and not able to make those life decisions," Stevenson said. "But there are also 30-, 45-, 50-year-old individuals... who shouldn't be on a jury either."

Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, supports the bills, but doesn't think they will pass the Senate this session.

Three bills that would lower the jury age to 18 are currently in the House Judiciary Committee. Chairman Richard Byrd, R-St. Louis County, said the committee probably won't vote on the bills because they are not among the highest priorities at this time.

Stevenson said he is considering adding the bill as an amendment to an omnibus crime bill.