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New law expanding local jury pools to take effect July 1

A major overhaul of Georgia’s jury system, which will expand the local jury pool to include every citizen who legally is eligible, will go into effect July 1. According to Superior Court Clerk Frank Abbott, every Lamar County resident who is at least 18 years old who votes or has a driver’s license or issued identification card will be eligible for jury duty under the new law. The Council of Superior Court Clerks will deliver each county’s jury pool by July 1. Previously, Georgia was the only state remaining that required forced balancing of jury pools. This means that jury pools were created by local jury commissions in all 159 counties to ensure the pools were not skewed according to gender or race. Balancing involves constraining the demographics in the pool to those in the latest decennial census. Because those demographics never exactly match those in the actual pool, 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 were expressed that the current system is unconstitutional. 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. Under the new system, which is based on inclusion rather than exclusion, the list of prospective jurors will be compiled using the entire state driver’s license file and voter registry. This list will be certified as inclusive by the CSCC and distributed to each of the 159 jury commissions in Georgia. Local jury clerks will draw names from the certified pool in a totally random manner, assuring a representative sample of available jurors. The method used for selecting grand jurors also will change. ‘Essentially, we’ll have only one jury pool consisting of people who may be summoned for service as jurors for jury trials and grand jury,’ Abbott 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 a county were placed in the grand jury pool. Local citizens will be 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. Convicted felons who have not had their civil rights restored automatically are disqualified from jury service. Abbott said that because new jury lists are being used, transitional problems may occur, such as people who have previously been permanently excused from jury service being summoned for jury duty from the new list. Those affected should call their local jury clerk, who may request a new affidavit for excusal. For information, call the clerk of superior court’s office at 770-358-5145.

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