How selection of county juries works

LOCK HAVEN — At jury selection time, it seems that the Clinton County Voter Registration Office buzzes with phone calls.

Confusion exists about how voter registration lists are involved in the selection of juries.

So we sat down with county’s Don Powers, administrator for the county Court of Common Pleas, to understand the process a little better.

“The list of potential jurors does not come from voter registrations alone. It is derived from a large pool of information” Powers explains. “If you have a driver’s license, paid taxes, registered to vote or received services through the Department of Human Services, your information is sent to the county’s court system.”

The process actually begins at the Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts. Pursuant to Act 37 of 2007 Statewide Jury Information System, the Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts provides a county specific list of potential jurors to Clinton County courts.

This list is compiled from a large, diverse pool of potential jurors including information from the Pennsylvania Departments of Human Services, Transportation, Revenue and State.

As Powers describes, the county’s MIS department receives 1,600 names, chosen at random, from the list of county residents provided to the county by the Commonwealth.

Those names are then entered into a computer program designed expressly for selecting juries.

The county court then sends post cards to those 1,600 people asking prospective jurors to answer a set of questions to better judge their eligibility.

Criteria such as current address, age, and occupation are compared between the state information and the information returned on the post cards. This generally pares the list down to approximately1000 due to people moving out of county, or the cards simply being returned as undeliverable.

Of those approximate 1,000 names, the court then randomly selects 140 bi-monthly to be physically called into the courthouse for jury selection.

Of those, around 40 are usually excused by request. The requests are varied, such as vacations, too busy at work, primary caregivers for ill or disabled family members among others. Typically 100 people will attend selection day where they gather in Courtroom #1.

Potential Jurors are then given a speech explaining how the system works and what they can expect by one of the judges. They are asked very general questions to further determine if anyone present isn’t eligible.

Forty are then chosen, again at random.

This group is called a jury panel.

Those 40 are taken to Courtroom #2, the remainder stay in Courtroom #1, where they will meet with the district attorney, defense attorney(s), defendant(s) and the judges for more detailed questioning.

The judge usually makes a brief statement explaining what kind of case is to be tried and inquiring whether there is any reason the potential jurors cannot serve. The judge or the lawyers then ask them questions as to whether they have any knowledge of the case or have had specific experiences that might cause them to be biased or unfair. This questioning of the potential jurors is known as voir dire (to speak the truth).

Counsel accepts or rejects individuals until they have chosen the jurors and alternates for the trial. Two juries are picked at once, one in each courtroom. Which means that there are usually 12 jurors and two alternates but that sometimes changes depending on the case type.

After the juries are selected the two groups are returned to Courtroom No. 1, where the process starts over until a jury is picked for every trial scheduled in that 2 month term.

It is possible that a person can be picked for more than one trial in that term. If you are picked as a juror you will not be required to serve for two years.

If you have served and you receive a post-card in the mail you just call and your name will be removed.

Powers stated that it is most certainly a coincidence if someone gets picked every year.

The names are randomized by the state, randomized by the county MIS department, randomized by the courts and each jury selection panel is randomized by the court administrator office.

The original 140 are then removed from the poll. They will not be called again in the current year.

“Being chosen for a jury, while perhaps inconvenient, should be seen as a privilege and an honor,” said Clinton County President Judge Craig P. Miller.

“Doing one’s civic duty may be a worn out phrase, but in the case of jury duty remains very relevant. Our system of justice would collapse without those willing to serve,” he concluded.

(This story was compiled from information provided by both the Clinton County Voter Registration and Court Administrator’s Offices.)