Duty calls, but will jury be out?

AIKEN - One hundred fifty people have been summoned to the Aiken County Courthouse today for jury duty, but more than half probably won't show up.


Although it appears some would-be jurors are blowing off their civic duties - which could land them in front of a judge - Aiken County's clerk of court said most of the time it's because they never received the summons.

Bad addresses are her office's biggest problem when gathering a jury pool, Liz Godard said. The office gets addresses from driver's licenses, identifications and voter registration lists maintained by the state.

Though summonses are sent to 150 potential jurors for each term of court, only about 60 to 70 potential jurors usually make it the first day.

For many others, Ms. Godard said, they ask to be deferred to another term of court, such as students attending college or senior citizens asking to be excused - something they are entitled to once they reach age 65.

She said her office works with potential jurors and that it's not often someone gets in serious trouble for ignoring the summons.

In one recent trial, every time a potential juror's name was called and that person was absent, Chief Administrative Judge Jack Early would simply say, "Send a deputy to find" him or her.

That often doesn't happen, Ms. Godard said. Her staff typically will intercede and contact the missing jurors.

"Ninety percent of the time they forgot," she said. That's because the jury summonses go out a month in advance so those selected can make arrangements.

Deputies are involved in the other 10 percent.

"If they tell us they're not coming, we'll send a deputy," Ms. Godard said.

The judge can hold them in contempt of court, fine them and make them sit through a trial for days on end even if they're not on the jury, she said.

"In the past, they have sent them to jail and they've spent a day in jail," Ms. Godard said. "They've even had to clean the jail."

But she said that rarely happens - maybe 10 to 20 times in 30 years.

For those who do show up, it's not over if they're not picked for trial. They have to call every day to find out whether they have to return to court for other trials, Ms. Godard said.

They're paid $20 a day for every day they report, she said.

Along with the summons and questionnaire they have to fill out, jurors also are provided rules and a dress code.

"No tank tops, shorts, skorts, miniskirts or flipflops are permitted in the courtroom," it reads.

Ms. Godard's advice for avoiding any scrutiny from the judge? "Dress professionally."

Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or sandi.martin@augustachronicle.com.


Who's exempted from jury duty:

- People 65 years or older can ask to be excused.

- Primary caregivers of a disabled person or someone 65 or older who is unable to care for him or herself

- Primary caregivers of children under seven who cannot find alternate child care

- Guards, keepers, employees or other officers at state penitentiaries

- Those who have served on a circuit court jury during the previous two calendar years or a grand jury during the previous four years

- Students or school employees can ask to be transferred to another term of court that won't conflict with school. They must provide proof of school enrollment or employment.

Source: Aiken County Clerk of Court's Office


Things that will disqualify you from jury duty:

- Not being a U.S. citizen

- Not being a resident of the county

- An inability to read, write, speak or understand the English language

- Having less than a sixth-grade education

- Having a mental or physical condition that prevents service. A doctor's note is required.

- Conviction of a crime that carries a sentence of more than one year in prison, and where pardon and amnesty have not been given

- Service on a circuit court jury within the calendar year

- Clerks of court, deputy clerks of court, constables, sheriffs, police officers, probate judges, county commissioners, magistrates, county officers or courthouse employees are all disqualified from jury duty.

Source: Aiken County Clerk of Court's Office