by Cynthia D. Wright
The Georgia Constitution not only gives you a right to a trial by jury but also requires that you serve as a juror when called unless you have a legitimate excuse.
Each year in Fulton County nearly 30,000 citizens fail to respond to a summons to serve on a jury. Not counting the names of those who have moved or have legitimate reasons for not serving or for deferring their service, nearly one-half of those remaining on the list fail to appear for service.
Ignoring jury summons causes harm in several ways. First, it imposes a greater duty on those citizens who duly answer their summons. If more citizens appeared for jury service, the demand for jury service would not come around as frequently. Second, it costs the taxpayer thousands of dollars each year in additional postage, printing, handling and staff time. Third, it can undermine justice. Justice is best achieved when a cross-section of the community is present to render the collective judgment of the community in a criminal or civil case.
Finally, ignoring a jury summons has serious consequences. Failure to appear can result in a visit to your house from your friendly Sheriff delivering a subpoena demanding your appearance in Court with an explanation as to why you failed to respond to your jury summons. Criminal penalties, including possible incarceration and/or a fine, can be assessed for willful failure to appear.
State law does provide a limited number of exemptions or deferrals from jury service. Very young women with nursing babies and other small children at home and no adequate day care, those attending to ailing relatives that can’t get somebody else who is competent to do it, and those with pre-paid vacations and other extremely important events are almost always excused from jury service or rescheduled due to hardship. If you have a scheduling conflict or think you have a legitimate excuse for exemption or deferral for jury duty, call the Court to discuss your issue with one of our staff who are committed to customer service.
The Court appreciates the personal sacrifice involved in serving on a jury. We have implemented procedures designed to minimize the disruption jury service causes by limiting it to one-day or one trial. Some cases last only one day; others take longer. In any event, once you have served, you won’t be called again for some time – and, if your fellow citizens respond to their summons, the time between calls for jury service for everyone will be longer. That’s reason enough to serve, and to encourage others to do the same.
The Honorable Cynthia D. Wright is Chief Judge, Superior Court of Fulton County.