December 30, 2004

Community Members Must Answer The Call For Jury Duty

They say there are two constants in life, death and taxes. One might want to add jury duty to this list. While many people might like to group the task in the unfavorable category with the other two, most simply view serving the court system as what it is, a civic duty.

In Scotland County, potential jurors are selected by a board of jury commissioners using a record of licensed drivers and registered voters.

Three times a year, mailers are sent out to 300 potential jurors that are randomly selected from this list by a computer system. The process is totally random, meaning a resident may receive a jury form more than once, or never.

The mail piece is basically a questionnaire, generating information about the prospective juror. The answers are used to determine if the juror is eligible to serve as a juror.

Scotland County Circuit Clerk and Recorder Anita Watkins stated the process has changed. She noted that it is now more difficult to be excused from jury duty.

Effective August 28, 2004, several changes occurred in Missouri Statutes regarding the disqualification of potential jurors, Watkins said. Those jurors requesting to be disqualified from service due to physical and or mental condition are now required to provide documentation from a licensed physician verifying that the juror has a physical or mental condition that renders him or her unfit for jury service.

The process also requires documentation from jurors asking to be excused from service due to extreme economic hardship such as federal and state tax returns. Extreme financial hardship does not exist solely based on the fact that a prospective juror will be required to be absent from his or her place of employment.

Despite the changes, the majority of area residents still wont have to worry about being called for service. Scotland County averages just one or two jury trials a year.

The pool of 300 potential jurors remains in place for four months. During this period if a jury trial occurs in the county, the judge instructs the clerk to create a jury. Generally this means the clerk will use the computer program to randomly select 60 potential jurors from the pool of 300. This number is up to the judge and may change due to the nature of the case.

Once the potential jurors are selected by the program, summons are issued and delivered by the Scotland County Sheriffs Department to each juror.

The summons states the potential juror is required by law to be present at the courthouse at a certain time, on a certain date, for jury duty.

Then a hearing is held, with attorneys from both parties given the opportunity to ask the potential jurors questions. Each party is allowed a number of strikes, meaning they may remove potential jurors from the pool. Ultimately 12 jurors and 1 alternate are selected from the 60-person pool.

Those that are not selected for service are excused. The jury is then seated and the trial is set to begin.

Jurors are paid $18 a day plus mileage for their civic service. Jurors that are called, but are not selected for the trial, are paid $6 for the day plus mileage.

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