Computer program, not people, selects potential jurors in Newton County

The Newton County Clerk’s Office contacts residents called to serve on the jury and gives instructions to potential jurors.

Only one job he does not have: to choose the people who will be called on to be part of the jury.

Some Newton residents have recently complained that they were never called to serve on a jury despite having lived in the county for decades, in some cases, and are ready to serve.

A resident commented Covington News recently on her Facebook page that he had been called to serve on a jury once every 60 years in Newton County, while another said she had never been called despite having lived in the county most of her life and that she was called three times in a neighboring county.

However, Newton County Clerk Linda Hays said her office does not choose who will be called upon to serve.

Hays said a computer program overseen by an outside vendor randomly selects the names of potential jurors and sends the names to him for notification of those selected.

In fact, the selection of potential jurors in Newton County begins with a random selection of potential jurors from across the state.

Georgia Superior Court Council of Clerks takes the list of people with valid driver’s licenses and voter registration entries, among other information, and removes those who should be legally excluded or recently moved out of the county or the county. ‘State.

It then compiles the state’s source list of those eligible in Georgia, divides it into 159 county juror lists, and sends them to the clerks in each county.

The names of Newton County are then downloaded into a computer program and a third-party vendor, MicroPact, uses it to randomly select eligible Newton residents to form the county jury, or pool of potential jurors.

Hays said Newton County had 89,417 residents on the main jury list for 2021.

The vendor’s computer program assigns each potential juror a number between one and 89,417. It then chooses the first set of jurors by choosing numbers at random and locating those assigned to the numbers, Hays said.

He selects subsequent jurors by choosing a number between one and 89,416, then between one and 89,415, and so on until a preselected total of potential jurors is reached.

The seller then sends the final list to Hays’ office for notification to potential jurors, she said.

For the week of April 12, Newton County called 150 people for the jury. A total of 53 appeared and 20 were placed on an appeal list as alternates, Hays said.

A total of 11 received non-appearance notices and were given an opportunity to respond, she said. If they have not responded after being warned a second time, a sheriff’s deputy informs them in person that they must appear before a judge to explain their absence, she said.

The remaining 55 who were summoned were determined by Hays’ office to have legal deferrals, meaning they were excused based on various factors, Hays said.

Factors may include health, mental or physical disabilities, service as a caregiver, or active military service.

They can also include being over 70 or having childcare issues, Hays said.

Prospective jurors who have issues such as illness, death in family, vacation plans or a new job may defer jury duty to another term but must still serve, she said.

THE JURY BOX

Until 2011, Georgia was the last state to require a local jury commission to create a panel of jurors representing a cross section of local demographics, such as race and gender.

The commissioners based their “balancing” jury pool on federal census figures that could go back a decade and ignore changes in a county’s demographic makeup.

The names were then placed in a box, and the judge of each court needing jurors would choose the names from the box of those to be called, according to state law at the time.

In 2011, this system was under increasing scrutiny, especially as counties like Gwinnett and Cobb saw their populations grow rapidly and diversify in the 1990s and 2000s.

The Georgia General Assembly and Governor Nathan Deal then changed the system by approving the 2011 Jury Composition Reform Act.

The law was designed to expand the local jury pool and eliminate any chance of discrimination by placing every eligible resident in the mix.

He also tasked the Superior Court Clerks Council with creating and maintaining a statewide master list of potential juror sources, according to information from the Georgia Bar Association.

The law gave the Council the power to request the Department of Driver Services (DDS) and the Georgia Secretary of State to provide voter registration records for active and inactive voters; and lists of all those who hold valid or expired driver’s licenses or state-issued personal identity cards.

The lists provide name, address, date of birth, gender, and all racial and ethnic information collected by the DDS, according to the state bar association.

The 2011 law also gave the Council the power to ask other departments for the names of those who should be legally excluded, including criminals whose civil rights have not been restored; and state residents declared mentally incompetent.

In 2012, the Georgia Supreme Court adopted its jury composition rule which, together with the 2011 law, established the new jury process, according to information from the Council of Registrars.


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Gordon K. Morehouse