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Low juror turnout a problem in Texas

By July 18, 2014No Comments

Via the San Antonio Express News

SAN ANTONIO — Jury duty is a privilege that often inspires dread.

For many, the only thing worse than a bill in the mail is a jury summons, and the first instinct is to seek some way to get out of it. That mind-set needs to change or it could undermine our court system.

Some Texas counties report that as many as 80 percent of those summoned for jury duty report to the courthouse, according to a recent study released by Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. In Bexar County, the number of people reporting for jury duty has dropped from 46.3 percent in 2001 to 28.5 percent in 2013.

Jury summonses are mailed almost every week in Bexar County, and in 2013 the central jury room sent 232,679 summonses. About 45,000 of them were undeliverable because the addresses, culled from Texas Department of Public Safety and voter registration records, were invalid. Thousands of potential jurors were excused or disqualified from jury service after providing documentation showing they were not U.S. citizens, were attending school or opted to take an elderly exemption.

Potential jurors who ignore a call to service can end up in jail or be fined.

Most of us will never need the service of a jury. But if we were involved in a civil dispute or charged with a crime, we would want a fair and impartial group of our peers sitting in the jury box. Ignoring our civic duty should never be considered an option.

Most people summoned to be in a jury pool will not be selected to hear a case, but their presence is key to the process. Many cases end in plea bargains and settlements, but the presence of waiting jurors is sometimes needed to motivate such agreements.

Jurors play a vital role in our system. It is crucial to stop apathy from undermining the process.

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