I was grateful this week for an email that I received. A local man in our community suggested that I write a column about how the list of jurors is actually drawn in our circuit. This was a great idea and one that I have never written about.
GRAND JURY – Let’s first take a look at the grand jury. The grand jury is a body of citizens who hear evidence in criminal cases and decide whether to issue a true bill of indictment in each case. They are the “formal charging instrument” in most serious criminal cases.
On and after July 1, 2012, the clerk shall choose a sufficient number of persons to serve as grand jurors. By statute, grand jurors must be 18 years of age or older, of sound mind, and residents in the county for at least 6 months preceding the time of serving. Generally, the potential pool of jurors consists of a master list of driver’s license and personal identification card holders provided by the Department of Driver’s Services and a list of registered voters provided by the Secretary of State.
A grand jury is made up of not more than 23 nor less than 16 persons. The grand jury will normally be made up of the first 23 on the list who are present and have not been excused.
The following persons cannot serve as grand jurors: (1) Any person who holds elective office in state or local government or who has held any such office within a period of two years preceding the time of service as a grand juror; and (2) Any person who has been convicted of a felony and who has not been pardoned, or had his or her civil rights restored.
TRIAL JURY – The method of making up the potential trial jury list is similar to the process for the grand jury. Basically, a defendant has a right to select a jury from a list of jurors which represent a fair cross section of the community. The clerk is tasked with the responsibility of choosing a random list of persons from the county’s master jury list to compose the panel.
After the jurors have been summoned, the judge of the court may excuse anyone “who shows that he or she will be engaged during his or her term of jury duty in work necessary to the public health, safety, or good order or who shows other good cause why he or she should be exempt from jury duty.
Also exempt from jury service are: any person who is a full time student; any person who is the primary caregiver of a child six years of age or younger; any person who is a “primary teacher in a home study program;” and, persons over the age of 70.
In making up a grand jury list and a trial jury list, the United States Supreme Court has emphasized the importance of having a pool of jurors who are representative of the area. While a defendant does not have the right to a jury of any particular makeup, he is entitled to a jury selected from a jury pool from which the state has not deliberately and systematically eliminated members of any race, class, or other identifiable group in the community, such as women.
This is how it should be. In order to receive a fair trial, the beginning of the process must be composed of fair elements. Having grand jurors and trial jurors who represent a cross-section of the area where a case may be tried is the best way to accomplish this goal.