McDONOUGH — Georgia’s jury pools will expand Monday, and every Henry County resident who is at least 18 years old, votes, has a driver’s license, or state-issued identification card will be eligible for jury duty under the new state law.
Georgia is the last state that required “forced balancing” of jury pools. 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 matching as closely as possible the demographics in the pool to those in the latest decennial census, and sometimes jury commissions 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,” said Barbara A. Harrison, Clerk of the Superior Court of Henry County.
“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.”
Henry County State Court Chief Judge Ben W. Studdard was a member of the special state jury commission.
“The new process of creating a master jury list should include every eligible adult citizen in the county,” said Studdard. “No longer will only some of the citizens be included. That should make it fairer for the parties as well as folks summoned for jury duty.
“It also will be better for taxpayers, because the new process should be less expensive to create, and less expensive to manage. It should also be more accurate, since it will be updated every year, instead of every other year, like the old process, and will gather updated information through National Change of Address registries, which will help us eliminate summons being sent to old, invalid addresses.”
Under the new system, 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 of Georgia, and distributed to each of the 159 jury commissions in Georgia, said Harrison.
“Local jury clerks will then draw names from that certified pool in a totally random manner, thus assuring a representative sample of available jurors,” she added.
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,” said Harrison. “This is a radical change since, for over 200 years, only the names of persons deemed by jury commissioners to be the ‘most intelligent, most experienced, and most upright citizens’ of the county 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 trial juror.”
By law, a juror may be permanently excused for any statutorily required reason that includes death, 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, she added.
Harrison said, 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.
”It will take some time, at first, to perfect the process, but once that happens, we should have a much more efficient, accurate and fair system for creating jury lists than we’ve ever had before,” said Studdard.