by Clint Boehler
HUERFANO- Recently, 3rd Judicial District Judge Claude W. Appel was diligently preparing to hear a felony jury trial. The trial quickly ended in a mistrial due to the unexpected factor that not enough potential jurors had responded to their jury notices to be able to seat a jury.
Judge Appel discovered that out of 99 prospective jurors summoned for that trial, 43 failed to appear for screening. Out of the remaining pool, only 20 to 25 appeared to be qualified. This is an insufficient number to provide a full jury considering challenges and other processes. This left no choice but to declare a mistrial.
Records show that Huerfano residents have an alarming pattern of not showing up for a jury summons request. This is a little pink card that provides a date and time for appearance of a prospective juror and is not to be considered just a request, rather a command to appear. Records show that on January 20, 2010, out of 71 jury summons issued, 19 did not appear. On February 1, 18 of 70 failed to appear.
The State Court Administrator, by authority of state statute, randomly selects potential jurors from each district. While it is understood there will be some who have moved away or other reasons for not responding, there is no justification for prospective jurors to simply ignore the summons.
Therefore, the court has found it necessary to issue Contempt of Court Citations with an Order to Show Cause to those prospective jurors who failed to appear on recent dates. Sheriff Bruce Newman has received approximately 80 citations to be served on those errant prospective jurors. Deputies have been serving the documents with a March 29 court appearance date. The court may impose significant fines and jail time up to six months for those who failed to appear without justification.
Judge Appel points out that jury service is both a duty and a privilege and can be a rewarding experience. When jurors do not respond, it weakens the justice system. Defendants and victims are deprived of a speedy trial and witnesses are grossly inconvenienced, some having traveled long distances. It creates a no win situation. While the court has authority to order citizens to jury duty without warning, it tries to avoid this option. So, if you receive a jury summons, respond to the instructions included, or the consequences could be uncomfortable, as many Huerfano County residents are discovering.