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Meshing old and new jury pools has created issues

Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012 6:19 PM
Last updated Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012 2:50 AM
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Joan Shackelford’s phone is always ringing.

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Richmond County Jury Clerk Joan Shackleford instructs potential jurors. A new system implemented in July broadened the number of eligible jurors.  EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Richmond County Jury Clerk Joan Shackleford instructs potential jurors. A new system implemented in July broadened the number of eligible jurors.

In fact, since July 1, when Georgia expanded the number of citizens eligible for jury duty, Richmond County’s jury clerk averages 600 calls a week.

“Everything has pretty much more than doubled,” Shackelford said about the results of a new statewide jury pool.

Until this year, Georgia counties were among the last in the nation still using the “balanced box” system of jurors. The box is demographically representative of each county’s race and sex, but it excludes a large percentage of eligible citizens from serving on a jury.

The new jury pool, created by the Jury Reform Act of 2011, draws from the Depart­ment of Driver Ser­vices’ records and includes just about everyone with a driver’s license in Georgia.

While it serves the purpose of creating an inclusive list, its implementation has brought challenges.

Richmond County’s pool of potential jurors has grown since July 1 from 20,000 – mostly culled from voting rolls – to about 100,000.

Starting the jury roll from scratch means that all who were previously exempt because of age or other circumstances are now receiving summonses. It also means citizens who served on juries within the past two years are receiving summonses in the mail.

Another challenge results because many motorists don’t change their driver’s license address, so some people who live in other counties are called to Richmond County jury duty.

All of that leads to hundreds of calls and e-mails.

“I have all the confidence that the issues will be
resolved; it will just take time,” Shackelford said.

Most counties in Georgia are facing many of the same issues as Richmond County, particularly in terms of erasing historical data from the old jury pool, said Michael Holiman, the executive director of the Georgia Council of Superior Court Clerks. Differences in mailing addresses, such as post office boxes and home addresses, are also complicating matters.

There are duplicates on the list, so “it’s not as simple as it sounds,” Holiman said.

While the intentions of the balanced box were noble, the outdated method came dangerously close to being declared unconstitutional, said state Rep. Alex Atwood, R-Brunswick, who introduced the House legislation for the Jury Reform Act. Creating a black and white box isn’t acceptable when “we have a more diverse society,” Atwood said.

The expanded jury pool “catches a larger demographic of people,” Atwood said.

The ultimate goal of seating new jurors was accomplished in at least one Richmond County trial in September. None of the jurors who convicted Gerald Wright in a fatal wreck on Laney-Walker Boulevard had deliberated before.

Rodney Quesenberry, Wright’s attorney, said it’s unclear what benefit, if any, the defense might gain from having novice jurors.

He noted that the Wright jury asked the judge six questions during deliberations.

“If anything they might just be more nervous,” Quesen­berry said.

Shackelford said she tries to make jury duty pleasant, including providing jurors with televisions and Internet access. The spacious jury assembly room in the new courthouse makes that possible, she said.

“For the large part it’s … a huge inconvenience, so I want them to feel comfortable here,” she said.

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Little Lamb
Little Lamb 10/06/12 - 11:20 pm
It's About Time

I was one of the ones excluded from the list. Now I will be back on. You don't want me to be on your jury if you are a whiner.

seenitB4 10/07/12 - 08:19 am
Professional jurors

I wish we had pros we could call on for jury would make sense & probably come up with the best outcome for all.........the last time I served I felt so sorry for an elderly black lady...she was wheeled in a wheelchair & was very nervous......very sick & frail......I wondered why in hell did she HAVE to endure that....

specsta 10/07/12 - 03:44 pm
Volunteer Jury Pool

Jury service should be completely voluntary. What's the point of forcing people to serve who don't want to be there?

There is also the issue of intimidation. Some folks are not comfortable sitting in a courthouse deciding someone's fate. They may be afraid of the judge and make a decision based on cues picked up from him/her. They may be afraid of the accused. They might be shy and not want to spend time all day with a group of strangers in close proximity. They might be embarrassed by the subject matter of the trial.

If we can have an all-volunteer military, why not an all-volunteer jury pool? If the pay were raised to a decent amount, there would be no problem getting people to serve.

soapy_725 10/08/12 - 07:07 am
Professional jurors, sort of like professional lawyers?

Now that is good. The same people in each county deciding the fate of all who appear in court. The "Pandora's Box" will be opened. The far reaching affects apart from bribes would be enormous.

This would however fit in Georgia's 159 'little kingdoms" where in some you already had a select few (friends of the court, retired, who needed jury pay for disposable income) who were called each court session. Sort of like bailiffs and marshals. This works fine for the judge, the clerk, the bailiff, the jury, defense attorney and the prosecutor. They are all buddies outside the courtroom.

Not so good for the accused !!!!!!

soapy_725 10/08/12 - 07:15 am
If you have medical issues you can be excused.

It takes some effort, but surely less than serving in misery?

If you just do not wish to serve, say you were having an affair with the prosecutor or his wife. LOL

If you do not wish to serve, say you watch Nancy Grace and Court TV 24/7. You will stricken by both defense and prosecution.

If you do not wish to serve, tell the judge you have to urinate every ffiteen minutes and diapers chafe you genitals.

If you do not wish to serve tell the judge you manic-depressive medication make you fall asleep.

If you do not wish to serve tell the judge you are opposed to any kind of punishment that may be applied by "his honors" court.

If you do not wish to serve tell the judge you have formed an opinion and that being the "his honor" is incompetent.

soapy_725 10/08/12 - 07:20 am
TV, WiFi, latte bar, newpapers?

Why not entertain the jury. They can't pass basic math test or literal interpretation. Reasonable doubt is like the infield fly rule to these prospective "peers of the accused". God help today if you end up in front of a jury who have matriculated through t he ARC public school system. Take a plea, please.

Tullie 10/08/12 - 10:56 am
seenitB4's Comment:

.........the last time I served I felt so sorry for an elderly black lady...she was wheeled in a wheelchair & was very nervous......very sick & frail......I wondered why in hell did she HAVE to endure that....

She did not have to endure it. All she had to do was call her doctor and get an excuse from them and call the number that is on the paper that she got telling her she has jury duty.

When I was sick and had jury duty I did just that, the lady was very kind and all I had to do was mail the excuse in within a week or so.

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