San Joaquin Citizens Ignoring Jury Summonses
The number of citizens showing up for jury service is slipping in San Joaquin County, while the need for jurors is increasing. Court officials are very concerned, and are exploring ways to solve the problem.
"In 2003, there were 182 jury trials in our county," according to Rosa Junqueiro, Court CEO and Jury Commissioner. "More than 22,000 people appeared for jury service. But 7,460 people failed to appear. It is becoming a serious problem."
Jury Supervisor Helen Varela says that they now have "panic weeks" in the jury assembly room, where summoned jurors report. The panic happens when they run out of jurors before they run out of week. "One time we used up all of our jurors by Wednesday. On Thursday, a courtroom called for jurors. Fortunately, there were some 'walk-ins' who were immediately pressed into service," according to Varela.
Prospective jurors are randomly selected by computer from voter registrations, driver licenses and DMV ID cards. First they're mailed a summons. If they ignore that, they're sent a courtesy reminder postcard. If they still don't respond, they get yet another letter, and then a final warning letter. At that point, they could get a knock on the door from the Sheriff, and as much as a two thousand dollar fine. And they'll still have to take their turn at jury service.
The Court has now asked the Sheriff to round up delinquent jurors. On a day designated in the near future, deputies will fan out across the county and serve "Orders to Show Cause" on people who have not responded to the call for jury duty. Those folks will then have to contact the Court to arrange their jury service, or they'll have to come see the judge.
"We've had a very effective Jury Compliance and Education Program since 1999," according to Judge William J. Murray, Jr., chair of the Jury Service Committee for the Court. "In fact, the program won an innovation award from the California Judicial Council in 2001. Randomly selected delinquent jurors have been getting visits from the Sheriff's Office since the beginning. And while we try very hard to achieve compliance with the law without punishing people, it seems that it's necessary now to remind the community of their legal obligation."
People in all demographic groups in San Joaquin County are guilty of "failing to appear." But Judge Murray says the rate seems higher in our minority communities. "As the judge who has presided over our juror compliance hearings since 1999, I can say that the percentage of people of color that appear in those hearings is noticeably higher than the percentage that appear for jury service after receiving a single summons. There may be many reasons for this, but it diminishes our ability to provide a fair cross-section of the community in the pool of people available to be jurors."
"We would rather not punish people," Judge Murray added. "We would rather obtain their compliance."
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