Jury duty deficits addressed during forum
by Paisley Boston
Jun 20, 2014 | 1427 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Bolivar County Task Force held a public forum on Thursday to discuss possible solutions for jury service discrepancies.

According to Bolivar County Circuit Clerk Marilyn Kelly, this was the first time that a forum such as this has been held in the county.

"This is actually an historical event and I am elated that Judge Albert Smith decided to conduct this forum," said Kelly.

"We want to educate our citizens because there a few misconceptions about the jury service selection process. Some people think that we personally choose them to serve on jury duty but this is not the case. We have an electronic system that randomly picks 3,000 people and from those people, we may choose 1,500. This system has been working well for many years and we have found it to be effective," she added.

To be legally qualified for jury service, an individual must embody the following qualifications: must be a United States citizen; be at least 18 years of age; reside primarily in the judicial district for one year; be adequately proficient in English to satisfactorily complete the juror qualification form; have no disqualifying mental or physical condition; not currently be subject to felony charges punishable by imprisonment for more than one year; and never have been convicted of a felony.

There are three groups that are exempt from jury service which include members of the armed services on active duty; members of professional fire and police departments; and public officers of federal, state or local governments, who are actively engaged full-time in the performance of public duties.

"Jury service is something that we all must take responsibility for. I try to help individuals to understand how important jury duty is," said Cleveland Mayor Billy Nowell.

"It is amazing that we can get a crowd such as this on a Thursday night but we cannot get people to show up for 9 a.m. sessions. I feel like we are preaching to the choir because these are the individuals who do come to jury duty," he added.

Judge Smith said this is not just a county issue or an issue in the state of Mississippi; jury service is a issue nation wide.

Members of the task force have been seeking various means to aid with this ongoing issue.

"We are thinking about implementing a calling system that notifies individuals about jury duty, placing a jury duty calendar on the county's website and even having a suggestion box placed in the court house – this will be so that our citizens can offer some helpful tips," said Smith.

"This is an issue that all judges face and we are trying to find ways to help our citizens," he added.

Members of the task force said they have been working earnestly to provide a more convenient means to inform, remind or encourage individuals to attend jury service.

"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," said Kelly.

"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," she continued.

Mike Carr, president of the Bolivar County Bar Association said he has noticed some demographic trends in individuals who attend jury service.

"I have worked on 26 jury trials during my career and I have found reoccurring themes when it came to picking jurors. I have found that white males are terrible at serving on jury duty; they are always looking for an excuse to get out of it. I have also found that we do not have enough young African American males in the jury pool and I think this is because they are not registered to vote. On the other hand, I have found that African American women serve jury duty faithfully – they show up time and time again but we cannot just have one demographic," said Carr.