The Jury Is In

By staff November 1, 2003

Jury laws vary from state to state, and county to county, sometimes. In Tennessee, for example, a person may be called for jury duty only once every 10 years. Here in Sarasota, you can be called once every 365 days if the computer in charge of selection wants you to be.

That's because here, jury pools are built from people with valid driver's licenses. That's right. A computer compiles those names from the Department of Motor Vehicles, then randomly selects names for jury service. You can serve only once in a 365-day period, but after that, your name goes back into the computer, and it can (and has, on occasion), select you to serve again.

This has lead to, um, testy jury summons replies to the county clerk's office, says Danielle Davis in the jury office. "We get some pretty derogatory things sent in," she says. "We get a lot of ethnic slurs. Most people are just upset when they are summoned more than once."

And while they sympathize with those called to duty over and over again, there's nothing they can do but take the heat. Voter pools used to come from registered voter lists, but the dramatic fall in people who were registering to vote caused the switchover to the more ample number of people who drive.

While getting snippy with the jury office won't win you any friends, it's not a crime. Choosing not to respond to your jury summons at all-now that's a crime. "If someone won't respond, it is contempt of court," says Davis. "You can be punished by a $100 fine or time in jail." (Don't worry. Although it has happened, it is rare for a police officer to drag you from your place of employment down to the court house just to sit on a jury.)

Kudos to you if you do receive a summons and return it cheerfully with little smiley faces and an anticipatory nature. You're one of the good guys. To those who haven't served yet, but will in the future, here are some tips from the Clerk of the Circuit Court's Web site to make your judicial stay more comfortable.

Attire: In the courtroom, proper attire is required. No shorts or beachwear permitted. And bring a sweater or light jacket. All the courtrooms are air-conditioned.

Payment: OK, so it's not the Florida lottery, but Uncle Sam wants to give you something for your time. Jurors who received regular wages from another job during jury services receive no payment for the first three days of service. After three days, all jurors are paid $30 a day. If you don't have a regular job, or you job will not pay you while on jury duty (and shame on those who won't), you'll receive $15 a day for the first three days, then $30 a day afterward.

Exemptions: These are the official exemptions from jury duty. They're not all-inclusive.

1. Expectant mother.

2. Parent who is not employed full-time and has custody of a child under 6.

3. Full-time law enforcement officer or such entities' investigative personnel.

4. Person responsible for care of another who is incapable of caring for themselves.

5. Persons 70 years of age or older and wishes not to report.

If you do get a jury summons, buck up and show up at the appointed time. As Mr. Chatterbox discovered, the democratic process can be fascinating and stimulating. Try to take part in it, since we have one of the few such systems in the world.

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