Having peers decide a person's guilt or innocence is something the Payson Magistrate Court is struggling with, for one main reason.
Defendants in the past two weeks had their court trials postponed after people did not show up for jury duty.
Magistrate Dorothy Little said it is frustrating that people are disregarding the jury summons they receive in the mail.
She said there is always the possibility that a defense attorney can ask for the case to be dismissed against his or her client due to a lack of jurors.
If the person came from out of state to stand trial, she would have to take that into account when deciding whether to dismiss the charges because people were ignoring their summons.
The maximum penalty for not showing up for jury duty, after surcharges, is $908.
"They don't think they have to (serve)," Little said. "It may be an employer issue. I know it's an inconvenience."
Not showing up, she said, is more than an inconvenience to the court staff.
"The whole staff has to be involved in the preparation," Little said.
The magistrate said she has not taken action against people who do not show up for jury duty.
"I would rather educate the people than to order them to court to pay the fine," Little said.
If she were to fine people for skipping jury duty, the amount would be based on the excuse.
There are a few valid reasons to allow a person to be excused from jury duty. They include:
- Medical reason with a physician's letter
- Age limit of at least 72
- Plane tickets or prior commitment
- Have not had their civil rights restored after committing a felony
Little said, school and work are not valid excuses to miss jury duty.
The magistrate for Northern Gila County said she knows serving on the jury is not something most people want to do, but it is a requirement. A juror is paid $12 a day and 44.5 cents per mile.
The first time she had to postpone a trial was when only 10 people showed up, and the following week only nine prospective jurors showed up. In magistrate court, six jurors determine whether a person is guilty or not guilty in criminal cases. In each of the two postponed cases, the court sent out 35 summons -- 25 percent obeyed the letter.
Little said, in most instances, about 50 percent of people will show up after being summoned.
Having 15 people to pull together a six-person jury is workable, but not ideal.
"Ideally, we would want to have 20," she said.
The court in the near future will send jury summons to 50 people, hoping to get at least 15, so the defendant may have his or her day in court.
If a person actually serves on a jury, he or she will not have to serve on another jury for the next two years.
"It's part of everyone's citizenry. Everyone deserves his or her day in court," she said.
Residents who have questions about jury summons may call (928) 474-5267 or visit www. supreme.state.az.us/gilasc/.