A major overhaul of Georgia’s jury system, which will expand the local jury pool to include every citizen who legally is eligible, was effective July 1, 2012.
According to Donna Flood, Clerk of the Superior Court of Murray County, every resident who is at least 18 years old and is a citizen of the county who votes or has a driver’s license or state issued identification card will be eligible for jury duty under the new law.
The Council of Superior Court Clerks will deliver each county’s jury pool by July 1st of each year. Previously, Georgia was the only state remaining that required “forced balancing” of jury pools. This means that jury pools were created by local jury commissions in the state’s 159 counties, for the purpose of ensuring the pools were not skewed according to gender or race.
Balancing involves constraining the demographics in the pool to those in the latest decennial census. Because those demographics never match exactly the demographics in the actual pool, the Jury Commissioners were forced to remove some individuals because of their age, sex or race.
The new system is designed to eliminate any opportunity for discrimination on any grounds and is a result of changes in state law and Georgia Supreme Court rules adopted after concerns that the current system is unconstitutional. A special state jury commission appointed by the Supreme Court and chaired by Justice Hugh Thompson recommended the changes. The commission included judges from all classes of trial courts, defense attorneys, prosecutors and Superior Court clerks.
Under the new system, which is based on inclusion rather than exclusion, the list of prospective jurors will be compiled using the entire state driver’s license file in addition to the entire state voter registry. This list will be certified as inclusive by the Council of Superior Court Clerks and distributed to each of the 159 jury commissions in Georgia.
Local jury clerks will then draw names from that certified pool in a totally random manner, thus assuring a representative sample of available jurors.
The methodology currently used for selecting grand jurors also will change.
“Essentially, we will have only one jury pool consisting of persons who may be summoned for service as jurors for jury trials and grand jury,” Flood said. “This is a radical change since, for over 200 years, only the names of persons deemed by jury commissioners were placed in the grand jury pool. How this translates for local citizens is that they are subject to be summoned for service as either a grand or traverse juror.”
By law a juror may be permanently excused for any statutorily required reason that includes death, 70 + years old, non-residency and permanent medical or mental infirmities attested to by a medical doctor or psychologist. Persons who are convicted felons and who have not had their civil rights restored automatically are disqualified from jury service.
Flood said that because new jury lists are being used, transitional problems may occur, such as persons who have previously been permanently excused from jury service being summoned for jury duty from the new list. Persons affected should call their local jury clerk, who may request a new affidavit for excusal.
For more information, call the Clerk of Superior Court’s Office at 706-695-2932.