Task Force to hear jury issues
by Paisley Boston
Jun 13, 2014 | 1230 views | 0 0 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A Bolivar County task force recently met to discuss deficits in jury attendance and as a result of the meeting it has decided to host a public forum Thursday.

The forum is set to take place at the Bolivar County Courthouse in Cleveland at 6 p.m.

The task force consists of Bolivar County Sheriff Kelvin Williams, the circuit clerk and Judge Albert Smith.

"We are considered to be the officers of the court," said Bolivar County Circuit Clerk Marilyn Kelly.

According to Kelly, the task force meets a few times out of the year to deliberate about various court issues.

"We meet when there are good or bad issues that need to be discussed such as things that we need to put in place to improve or to address situations – it could be a plethora of things. We recently met to discuss jury matters. We have been noticing the fall in jury numbers, particularly in district two, which is the Cleveland district," she added.

A recent example of juror deficiencies occurred during the capital murder trial for Kelvin Taylor, Jerry Undre Stewart, Ladell Maggett Jr., Tresten Chatman and Christopher Anderson of Clarksdale.

These individuals were scheduled to go on trial for the murder of Quenton Deon McKay of Tunica but a lack of jurors led to a mistrial.

"We had a little under 50 jurors to appear on Monday and a little over 50 that did not show up at all," said Kelly.

"We typically have to have 12 jurors per trial and two alternates. We were only able to qualify about nine jurors. The court is still reviewing what should be done. To my knowledge, no form of punishment has not yet been rendered to the absent jurors. The court has not decided on what is appropriate for this situation," she continued.

Responses to jury summonses have declined in recent years.

Thirty days before the court term began, 250 juror summonses were mailed to registered voters randomly selected from the voter rolls.

On the day of trial 52 people, or 21 percent, failed to appear.

The postal service returned 65 summonses, or 26 percent, as undeliverable. A total of 60 prospective jurors, or 24 percent, appeared in court.

Others had been excused in advance for statutorily allowed reasons.

After all prospective jurors were questioned and numerous people were dismissed for cause, only nine remained.

Kelly said in order to address the recent situation with jurors; the task force has come up with several solutions.

"We are gathering information that may help officials to understand citizens who are reluctant to serve on juries We are also working to find ways of increasing citizen response to jury summonses and improve the jury experience for individuals who do their civic duty," she continued.

"We do plan to take certain steps in the next few months regarding these matters. Decisions made about situations such as this depend on what the court decides," said Kelly.

During the public forum, the task force will hear public comments regarding circuit court jury service.

Any citizen who has served on jury duty or been summoned for jury service in the past is welcome to share their experiences and ideas.

Local officials are also invited to speak.

Persons who wish to speak at the forum are asked to limit their comments to no more than two minutes, so that everyone may be heard.

The public forum is also intended to be the first step in a continuing program educating citizens about their judicial system.

Smith will explain the importance of jury service and the invaluable role of citizens in the fair and efficient functioning of the judicial system.

"There are a lot of factors that come into play regarding jurors because they are people and we tend to have all kinds of things going on in our personal lives. We are trying to enhance our jury service by making the experience better for them to come in spite of various factors," continued Kelly.

"This is our last week of court and we have had a large amount of rainfall. Factors such as this affect juror attendance. Anything could deter or encourage jurors to come out. Our jurors are supplemented by pay and sometimes during harsh economical times this could be a boost for them to attend jury duty," she added.

According to Kelly if jurors fail to appear for duty, there are various penalties they could face.

"Sometimes the judge may issue show cause warrants, send out jury warrants before the court case is settled or heard, he may do an immediate issue for jurors to show up or he may file a contempt of court against jurors," said Kelly.

Smith said jury service is a nation wide issue.

"This is an issue that all judges face and we are trying to find ways to help our citizens. During the form, we plan to try to offer solutions to make the experience a little better," said Smith.

"We are also going to listen to complaints or concerns from our citizens. We have been considering sending text messages to remind individuals about jury service," he added.

He also said the task force is open to other ideas to improve jury service because citizens are very important to the justice system.

For more information, contact Kelly at 662-843-2061.