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Jury out on no-shows


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POSTED: Saturday, June 27, 2009

Question: Several of us have been wondering about this: I showed up for jury duty with about two dozen other people in state court, but there were 12 no-shows. That wasn't enough people, so we were dismissed and asked to come back the next day. It is unfair to waste taxpayer time and money due to no-shows. What happens when people don't respond to a call to jury duty? Jury duty is imperative for a democracy to function. Most of us are extremely busy, but take it seriously so appear when requested. I have heard of people throwing the letters away or faking illnesses so they don't have to participate. Are there any ramifications for these actions?

Answer: Chronic no-shows are charged with contempt of court, but there really aren't any statistics as to how many of those there are and what happens to them.

And, officials still haven't figured out how to deal with those scofflaws.

However, the problem isn't as bad as it used to be, at least in state courts, said Freida Baker, jury clerk supervisor for the state Judiciary.

At one time, no-shows averaged about 20 percent; now, it's between 11 percent and 15 percent.

“;That's not too bad,”; Baker said, noting that at some places on the mainland, there have been reports of a 50 percent no-show rate.

What's helped locally is a new system, implemented last year, to keep tabs on people summoned for jury duty.

“;If they don't show up on the day they were summoned, then (the system) generates a 'failure to appear' letter,”; Baker explained.

That serves as a warning, basically saying the no-show is being given a second chance to appear in court.

Judges do have the authority to follow up on their own, having their bailiffs contact the no-shows for an explanation—“;sort of like an order to show cause,”; Baker said. In those cases, the person has to appear before the judge.

“;The judges will let us know that they will take care of the people who didn't show up,”; in which case a letter is not sent, Baker said.

What happens if someone doesn't show up a second time?

“;When the second notice goes out, we do have a lot of people show up,”; Baker said. “;But we still have a very few who either are missing or they don't show and nothing has really happened,”; she said.

There is no penalty set by law to deal with this situation. No-shows are a problem in federal court and throughout the country, Baker said.

“;We have a committee that's been looking into that for a long time. But nothing concrete has developed yet,”; she said. “;But the CJ (Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Moon) is aware that there are people who don't show up and he wants something to be done.”;

Baker acknowledged that sometimes not enough people show up when summoned, forcing a case to be postponed.

The type of crime or case helps determine how many jurors are initially called.

About 30 people generally are summoned for a burglary case and that number usually would be enough from which to pick a jury. As the cases get more complicated or serious, such as a sex assault, child molestation or murder, a larger number of people are called.

If it's a highly publicized case, then the numbers climb even higher.

Baker noted that for the 2000 trial of Byran Uyesugi, the Xerox repairman who shot seven co-workers to death in 1999, “;we went through a thousand jurors just to pick 12, plus four or six alternates.”;

Uyesugi is serving a life term in prison without the possibility of parole.

In any given year, about 33,000 people are summoned for jury duty for the First Circuit courts on Oahu. Each county has its own pool of jurors.

By the luck of the draw, sometimes cases are canceled or settled, so people called don't have to show up for duty.

“;But we put them on the back burner,”; Baker said.

If needed, they could be called again at the end of the year.

Baker acknowledged that some people are hesitant about serving.

“;But, once they serve, it's not really a problem; they kind of enjoy it,”; she said.

It could be worse. Baker noted that back when she started working for the Judiciary, 33 years ago, jurors used to be assigned to a judge for 30 days.

“;Now, you come in for one trial, one judge. It could be one day and you're out.”;