New law expands jury pool

CONYERS -- A new state law that took effect July 1 expands the number of potential jurors in a county and gives responsibility for creating jury pools to the Council of Superior Court Clerks of Georgia rather than each local clerk's office.

Under the new law, the local jury pool will be expanded to include every citizen who is legally eligible to serve on a jury, according to Rockdale County Clerk of Courts Ruth Wilson. Those eligible include every resident who is at least 18 years old, is a U.S. citizen, has lived in the county at least six months and who votes or has a driver's license or state-issued ID.

According to Wilson, prior to the new law taking effect, Georgia was the only state that still required "forced balancing" of jury pools. This meant that jury pools were created by county jury commissions to ensure that the pools were not skewed according to gender or race.

Forced balancing required making the demographics of the jury match those of the latest decennial census for the county. Because the census demographics never match exactly the demographics in the actual pool, jury commissioners were forced to remove some individuals because of their sex or race, Wilson explained in a press release.

Former jury pools were composed of only a sample of the county's eligible population. Under the new system, the list of prospective jurors is compiled using the entire state drivers license file in addition to the entire state voter registry. This list has been certified as inclusive by the Council of Superior Court Clerks as authorized by law.

"We will draw names from the certified pool for Rockdale in a totally random manner, thus assuring a representative sample of eligible jurors," said Wilson. "We will have only one jury pool consisting of persons who may be summoned for service as jurors for jury trials and for grand jury," Wilson said. "For over 200 years, the law stated that only the names of persons deemed by jury commissioners to be the 'most intelligent, most experienced and most upright citizens' of the county were placed in the grand jury pool. The new language reflects the realities of modern society."

By law, a juror may be permanently excused for any statutorily valid reason including death, non-residency and permanent medical or mental infirmities attested to by a medical doctor or psychologist, according to Wilson. Convicted felons who have not had their civil rights restored are automatically disqualified from jury service.

Wilson said that because new jury lists are being used, transitional problems may occur. For example, those who have previously been permanently excused from jury service may be summoned again for jury duty from the new list. Those affected by such problems should call the Clerk's Office and speak to the jury clerk or visit the clerk's website to get a new affidavit for excusal.

For more information, call the clerk's office at 770-278-7900 or visit the Clerk's website at www.rockdaleclerk.com.