More Diverse Pool
Of Jurors Is Goal
By BILL JONES
Professional persons, such as physicians, attorneys and school teachers, will not be automatically excluded from jury duty (or allowed to perform only limited jury service) as the result of a change in state law that takes effect Jan. 1.
Circuit Judge Tom Wright and Circuit Court Clerk Gail Davis Jeffers said during interviews that the tightening of jury service exemptions are the result of an amendment to Chapter 1159 of the Public Acts of Tennessee that was approved by the Tennessee General Assembly earlier this year.
The amendment takes effect Jan. 1. 2009.
Jeffers said she wanted the public to be aware of the changes in jury service exemptions, and she asked Judge Wright to help explain the situation.
Judge Wright said that previously certain professions had been either exempt from jury duty or allowed to serve only a limited number of days.
"The legislature has changed the exemptions from jury duty," he said.
"There used to be several professions that were exempt from jury duty. Those exemptions came about over the years because of pressure from groups who said they couldn't afford to take time off from work to serve on juries.
"But now the legislature has done away with those exemptions."
The major change under the new law regarding jury service, Judge Wright said, is that professionals who formerly had been automatically exempted from jury service or required to perform only limited service no longer are exempt.
"Now, everyone is going to have to serve, including doctors, lawyers and school teachers," he said. "There are no exemptions," he continued. "You just can't call in now and say you're not coming because you're exempt from jury service."
Judge Wright said the legislature decided that jury pools need to be composed of a broader cross-section of the state's population than had been the case in the past.
"We need a more diverse group to decide cases," the judge said.
He said he feels that with professionals such as attorneys, physicians and teachers serving on juries, the juries will benefit from the broader life experience of its members.
Through "being able to draw on broader life experiences of a cross-section of the community," Judge Wright said, juries should be able to reach "better decisions" than was sometimes the case in the past.
Must Be 18 To Serve
A form that all prospective jurors summoned beginning in January will receive states that, to be eligible for jury service:
* persons must be at least 18;
* be a U.S. citizen who has been a resident of Greene County for at least 12 months;
* not have performed jury service in the last 24 months;
* not have been convicted of a felony, of perjury, of subornation of perjury (inducing another person to commit perjury), "or any infamous offense."
Prospective jurors may request a postponement of jury service due to "an extraordinary event, such as a death in their immediate family, a sudden grave illness, natural disaster or a national emergency."
Some Excuses Allowed
Jeffers stressed that the new law will still allow those summoned for jury duty to be excused from jury service in hardship cases.
"Any person, when summoned to jury duty, may be excused upon a showing that such person's service will constitute an undue or extreme physical or financial hardship to the prospective juror or a person under the prospective juror's care or supervision," the new law states.
The new law notes that a judge of the court for which the prospective juror was called to jury service will decide hardship cases, unless the judge delegates that duty to the jury coordinator.
In addition, the law notes that "a person asking to be excused based on a finding of undue or extreme physical or financial hardship shall take all actions necessary to have obtained a ruling on that request by no later than the date on which the person is scheduled to appear for jury duty."
The new law notes that "undue or extreme physical or financial hardship" is limited to circumstances in which a prospective juror would:
* "be required to abandon a person under such juror's personal care or supervision due to the impossibility of obtaining an appropriate substitute caregiver during the period of participation in the jury pool or on the jury;
* "incur costs that would have a substantial adverse impact on the payment of the juror's necessary daily living expenses or on those for whom such juror provides the principal means of support;
* "suffer physical hardship that would result in illness or disease; or
* "be deprived of compensation due to the fact that the prospective juror works out-of-state and the out-of-state employer is unwilling to compensate the juror ... or that the prospective juror is
* "employed by an employer who is not required to compensate jurors ... and declines to do so voluntarily."
Undue or extreme physical or financial hardship does not exist, the new law says, "solely based on the fact that a prospective juror will be required to be absent from that prospective juror's place of employment."
Anyone summoned for jury duty who wishes to request disqualification must report to the Circuit Court Clerk's office in the Greene County Courthouse "at least seven days" before they are scheduled to report for jury duty for the first time, the form said.
The new law also does away with the local "jury commissions" that formerly helped select prospective jurors, according to Greene County Circuit Court Clerk Gail Davis Jeffers.
Judge Wright said that over the years, various groups had managed to persuade the legislature to allow exemptions from jury service
Jeffers said that since the early 1990s, the names of prospective jurors in Greene County have been chosen using an automated process that selected names randomly from a computerized list of licensed drivers.
Under the new law, she said, the three jury commissioners who witnessed the automated selection of prospective jurors from the county's trial courts will be replaced by a jury coordinator appointed by the local presiding judge.
In the case of Greene County, Jeffers said, she will be the jury coordinator.
She said that before the automated selection process for prospective jurors went into effect locally about a decade ago, state law said the names of prospective jurors were chosen either by a blindfolded jury commissioner or "a child under the age of 10."