With the start of a New Year comes the start of a new court calendar for the year in Hall County which doesn't mean much to most people until they get their "dreaded" jury summons in the mail. To many, receiving a notice for jury service is an aggravation that always seems to come at the wrong time. But the truth is that jury duty serves a highly valued and important role in the judiciary branch of our government.
Mark Alexander, a trial attorney and partner with the Gainesville, Ga. law firm Stewart Melvin & Frost, sheds some light on jury duty.
Question: There are very few ways that we, as Americans, can directly participate in our government but jury duty is one. Why is it important?
Mark: If and when you receive a jury summons in the mail, your first thought should not be negative or annoyed. Instead, you should appreciate the importance of this opportunity to serve in one of the oldest and most treasured roles in our American system of government.
The right to trial by an impartial jury is a fundamental principal of our Democratic System and the Founding Fathers. Much of our Judicial System is structured around impartial members of our community making decisions that resolve disputes, rather than any one person.
Whether serving in a criminal case or a civil lawsuit, your service as a juror is vital to resolving the case - even if the case never goes to trial.
Question: If the case does proceed, a trial by a jury of one's peers represents one of the cornerstones of our democracy. Can you tell us more?
Mark: Speaking from experience, I can tell you that Hall County Clerk of Court Charles Baker, the judges, and attorneys, all appreciate the citizens of this community who participate as jurors. In fact, they all bend over backwards to make sure they make the best and most efficient use of every juror's time. To a juror, it sometimes may feel like "hurry up and wait," but very important business is being taken care of behind the scenes - and all with the effort to provide as little inconvenience as possible to the jurors.
Instead of looking for excuses not to serve, view jury service as an opportunity to provide an extremely valuable service to one branch of our government - the Judicial System.
Question: Jurors are selected from a pool of potential jurors that is assembled locally in Hall County every two years. How are you eligible to be included in that jury pool?
Mark: If you are a registered voter in Hall County or have a driver's license from Hall County you are eligible. In addition, you must be a U.S. citizen, a resident of Hall County, able to speak and understand English and a non-felon.
Question: What do you do if the jury summons comes at a bad time and you are unable to serve? What qualifies as a legitimate excuse not to serve?
Mark: If you receive a jury summons and have a legitimate reason that makes it difficult to serve, the court in most instances will grant you a first-time excuse. However, you will likely be asked to serve in the next court session - and therefore should plan accordingly.
Potential excuses not to serve on a jury are being full-time student or single parent with no means of providing other day care for your child or children.
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