A major overhaul this summer of Georgia’s jury system will expand the local jury pool to include every citizen who legally is eligible.
According to F. Barry Wilkes, clerk of the Superior Court of Liberty 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 will be eligible for jury duty starting July 1.
Georgia was the only state remaining that required “forced balancing” of jury pools as a means for ensuring that, as jury pools were created by local jury commissions in the state’s 159 counties, the pools were not skewed according to gender or race. The new system is designed to eliminate any opportunity for discrimination on any grounds.
The methodology currently used for selecting grand jurors also will change.
“Essentially, we will only have one jury pool consisting of persons who may be summoned for service as jurors for jury trials and grand jury,” Wilkes said. “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.”
After July 1, the role of the jury commission ultimately will be to approve jurors’ requests for permanent excusal from jury service. By law, those reasons include death, non-residency and permanent medical and/or mental infirmaries attested to by a medical doctor and/or psychologist or psychiatrist. Persons who are convicted felons and who have not had their civil rights restored automatically are disqualified from jury service.
Wilkes said that because new jury lists are being used, “snafus” may occur, such as persons who have been permanently excused from jury service inadvertently getting summoned for jury duty. He said that calling his office will begin the corrective measures in that situation.
Wilkes said the idea of creating an all-inclusive jury pool resulted from a committee he served on in 2002 during the Georgia Jury Summit in Augusta. The conference brought together court officials, stakeholders and agencies together to improve the perception and reality of jury service in the state’s civil and criminal court system. At the summit, Wilkes voiced concerns about that the system was discriminatory because it required local jury commissions to exclude persons from jury service “for no reason other than achieving an arbitrary statistical balance.” He was joined by numerous other participants.
Legislation that was drafted in 2005 and signed into law in 2011 mandated creation of a statewide jury pool created and maintained by the Council of Superior Court Clerks of Georgia. Each county will begin using the master jury list provided to it by the council from drivers’ license lists obtained from the state Department of Driver Services and from voters’ lists from the Secretary of State.