Court gets tough on jury shirkers
Since December, 30 people have been called before Carson City judges to explain why they never showed up for jury duty.
While some had legitimate excuses, the majority are fined $100, District Judge Todd Russell said Wednesday.
“When I first started as an attorney, if people failed to show for jury duty, the judge automatically issued an order for them to appear and explain why,” said Russell. “Over the past years that went by the wayside, so to speak.”
But when Judge Jim Wilson came onto the bench in January 2009, he brought up the prospect and the two agreed, said Russell.
“We’ve noticed over the last year or so that we’ve seen a great drop in the number of people showing up for jury duty,” he said. “Nationwide it’s become an issue.”
When a jury is requested, court clerks randomly pull names from voter registration and DMV lists. Summonses are mailed to 120 people. Of those, Russell said, only about 58 percent will be qualified to serve – they are U.S. citizens and speak English, live in the county and are not felons or physically or mentally impaired. Twelve jurors and one alternate are needed for criminal trials; eight jurors and one alternate for civil trials. Jurors receive a stipend of $40
“It’s important to the parties of a case, especially in criminal cases, to have a good cross section of people for the jury. If you get a limited number then you aren’t getting the cross section of the people you want,” said Russell.
He said the excuses for missing a jury summons vary. On Wednesday, two people said they had never received the summons, one man said he was a felon and another man’s excuse was, “I was dumb,” said Russell.
The statute allows for up to a $500 fine, but so far, said Russell, he and Wilson have been sticking with the $100 fine.
“Most people come in and they are pretty honest. Most of them come in and they say, ‘I blew the time. I forgot about it,'” he said.
But honesty is not rewarded when it comes to fulfilling a civic duty, said Russell.
“The right to a jury trial is probably one of our most fundamental constitutional rights. We believe that everybody needs to show up for jury duty to protect that right,” he said.
“We have troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and these people are putting their lives on the line every day to serve this country. Do you think you should be excused?”