Breckenridge Texan

District judge gets tough on no-shows, stresses importance of jury duty

District judge gets tough on no-shows, stresses importance of jury duty
September 20
12:45 2018

Stephen Bristow, 90th Judicial District Judge, said he’s frustrated by the number of local citizens who are not showing up when they are called for jury duty, and he’s going to get tougher on those who are failing to appear.

On Aug. 10,  Bristow and the district clerk’s office sent out jury summons cards to 225 Stephens County citizens for a trial to determine the punishment for a man who had pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver. Less than 30 percent of those citizens showed up in court on the day of the trial.

Bristow said that some of the approximately 160 who didn’t show up filled out the jury summons card, citing specific exemptions, and returned it to the court. But, 28 people didn’t inform the court that they were eligible for an exemption, nor did they show up for jury duty.

So, Bristow sent letters to those 28 people, telling them to appear in the courtroom today, Thursday, Sept. 20, and explain why they didn’t respond. Only eight appeared in court. “One had children at home, but she didn’t send the card back. One was a convicted felon, but he didn’t send the card back. One guy said he just never checks his mail,” Bristow said. “I warned them that if it happens again, they will be in contempt of court and fined.”

He said he will now send the sheriff’s department to issue summonses to the 20 people who did not respond to the second letters, asking them, again, to come to the courthouse to explain their behavior. If they do not respond to the summonses, Bristow said, he will then send officers out to bring them into the courtroom.

The judge said the process gets frustrating when citizens don’t show up. “I understand hardships, but we had other people who had to miss work who showed up,” he said. “Jury duty is one of the most important civic duties we have. I put this up there with military service and voting. It’s just one of the things we do as a society; it’s our civic obligation.”

Bristow said that when a citizen gets a jury summons in the mail, there are some legal exemptions that they can take if they are eligible. According to Section 62.106 of the Texas Government Code, a person may be exempt from serving on a jury if her or she:

  1. is over 70 years of age;
  2. has legal custody of a child younger than 12 years of age and the person’s service on the jury requires leaving the child without adequate supervision;
  3. is a student of a public or private secondary school;
  4. is a person enrolled and in actual attendance at an institution of higher education;
  5. is an officer or an employee of the senate, the house of representatives, or any department, commission, board, office, or other agency in the legislative branch of state government;
  6. is summoned for service in a county with a population of at least 200,000, unless that county uses a jury plan under Section 011 and the period authorized under Section 62.011(b)(5) exceeds two years, and the person has served as a petit juror in the county during the 24-month period preceding the date the person is to appear for jury service;
  7. is the primary caretaker of a person who is unable to care for himself or herself;
  8. except as provided by Subsection (b), is summoned for service in a county with a population of at least 250,000 and the person has served as a petit juror in the county during the three-year period preceding the date the person is to appear for jury service; or
  9. is a member of the United States military forces serving on active duty and deployed to a location away from the person’s home station and out of the person’s county of residence.

However, a citizen doesn’t have to claim one of the exemptions. For example, people over the age of 70 may serve on a jury, if they are able to, as may college students and others who might qualify for exemption.

According to Texas law, a person is qualified to serve as a petit juror if the person:

  • is at least 18 years of age;
  • is a citizen of the United States;
  • is a resident of this state and of the county in which the person is to serve as a juror;
  • is qualified under the constitution and laws to vote in the county in which the person is to serve as a juror;
  • is of sound mind and good moral character;
  • is able to read and write;
  • has not served as a petit juror for six days during the preceding three months in the county court or during the preceding six months in the district court;
  • has not been convicted of misdemeanor theft or a felony; and
  • is not under indictment or other legal accusation for misdemeanor theft or a felony.

Bristow said there are always some citizens who “thumb their nose” at the justice system and refuse to show up for jury duty. “I’m not going to send the sheriff out if 85 percent come in,” he said. “But, 65 out of 225…if I send out 225 cards, I expect at least 100 to show up.”

The judge said the citizens have an obligation to the crime victims, as well as to the people who do show up for jury duty, to respond appropriately to the jury summons.

Those who do not properly respond to a jury summons can be held in contempt of court and fined up to $500 and/or jailed. “I will assess fines on a case-by-case basis,” Bristow said.

 

Story by Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

Cutline, top photo: District Judge Stephen Bristow is frustrated by the number of citizens who are not showing up for jury duty. If necessary, he can fine and jail those who fail to respond to a jury summons. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

 

 

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