Delinquent jurors in Summit cause grinding in gears of justice
summit daily news
SUMMIT COUNTY – Jury duty – the opportunity to determine the outcome of a court case – is also a requirement, and a recent jury trial was postponed because not enough people appeared for the trial.
“We ran out of jurors, and so citations have been issued for those who failed to appear to show cause,” District Court Chief Judge Terry Ruckriegle said.
Similar problems with absent jurors occurred in spring 2009, when trials in both district and county courts were affected. District court trials need 12 jurors. while county court trials need six.
“In county court we’ve been fortunate enough to have jurors that take their civic duty seriously enough to appear,” County Court Judge Edward Casias said.
Skipping out on jury duty can result in class III misdemeanor charges and fines up to $750 and up to six months in jail. Any such charges would be prosecuted by the district attorney.
Ruckriegle said that the citations issued to people who missed the recent trial will give them an opportunity to explain to the judge why they did not appear.
“Sometimes people don’t even show up after they’ve gotten the (citation), so after that we look at issuing a warrant as a possibility,” he said.
He said the state allows everybody “one free excuse from service,” which can be used by calling the court clerk. Other excuses may be issued at the judge’s discretion.
The court system draws about 125 jurors for district court and 100 for county court.
Ruckriegle said the transient nature of the local population often results in summonses that can’t be delivered.
“We build into the process the expectation of certain people having moved and certain people not being available for whatever reason – some people have justifiable reasons,” he said.
When jurors don’t appear, it can cause an innocent person to stay in jail longer than necessary – and cost the taxpayers for their room, board and security.
Casias has said such a mistrial wastes about $700 to $800 in jury fees and the costs incurred by the case’s parties and witnesses. In district court, up to a couple thousand dollars can go to waste on mistrials.
The local courts have generally had high participation, and Ruckriegle said it’s “difficult to analyze” why in some cases not enough show up.
Records from a variety of sources including voter and motor vehicle registration are used to summons jurors.
“I’m always grateful to them for taking time from their day to come and help us,” Casias said. “I think it’s a pretty interesting process, and I think most people would agree with that. They see it’s not as painful of a process.”
Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or email@example.com.
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