Officials outline process for becoming a potential juror

Residents in Mecosta and Osceola counties are randomly selected to serve jurors for trials in probate, district or circuit court. (Courtesy photo)

MECOSTA, OSCEOLA COUNTIES — Americans celebrate a wide range of rights afforded to them by the U.S. Constitution.

One of those rights includes is that if they are accused of a crime, they “shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury.”

In Mecosta and Osceola counties, when civil or criminal proceedings take place in probate, district or circuit court, there’s a possibility a resolution will not be met and officials may need to have a pool of jurors ready to be seated for a trial.

For county clerks Marcee Purcell in Mecosta County and Karen Bluhm in Osceola County, the random process to have jurors ready for a trial is similar, and begins with the arrival of information of residents who have a driver’s license or state ID card from the Michigan Secretary of State’s office each year.

BLUHM

“It’s all done electronically and put into the Judicial Information System (JIS),” Bluhm said. “We never see anybody’s name. Each year, the jury board, made up of three people, is told how many jurors were actually sent questionnaires, how many were summoned and how many actually had to come to court the previous year and they determine how many we will need for the year.”

In Osceola County, the jury board decides how many notices should be sent out to potential jurors in June.

“The normal number is around 3,500,” Bluhm said. “We don’t even see who those are until we print them out. We have one or two staff members who go through those and qualify or disqualify someone. If the questionnaire is not filled out properly, it will be sent back to the person.”

In Mecosta County, the jury commission determines how many of the questionnaires are needed and sent out, with Purcell’s staff going through each one to determine who is qualified as a potential juror.

For officials to qualify someone as a juror, they must be at least 18 years old, a U.S. citizen, speak and understand English and not have a felony on their record, Purcell said.

PURCELL

Purcell said those who are 70 years old or older can asked to be excused from jury duty, as well as those who may be physically unable to serve and those who have been seated on a jury in the last 12 months.

“There are times when people do not want to serve,” she said. “For them, in most cases, it might be a physical limitation and they are unable to get a doctor’s note. Our process to qualify a juror is more black and white, but the judges have more leniency and people can ask to be excused if they feel they are unable to serve.

“As soon as one of the courts makes a request for a jury, it is put in and the system randomly selects from the qualified jurors,” she said. “We also can put people’s service times in season, in case they go to Florida for the winter, they can serve in the summer. If a student is going to college or university, they can serve in the summer if they are not taking summer classes.”

Bluhm said in most cases, officials try to accommodate jurors as much as they can if they are made aware of special circumstances.

“Maybe it’s a medical issue, they are wheelchair-bound,” she said. “Some things we can help with, and some we can’t. If someone’s diabetic and often needs to eat or needs medication, if the court is made aware of it, we can accommodate. If there are any questions, I urge people to call and ask and we can try to answer what we can.”

When a jury is needed, both counties summon the potential juror, and they are asked to call to see if they will need to report to courthouse for the trial.

“The number of jurors needed depends on what type of trial it is,” Purcell said.

Many times the cases are resolved before they go to trial.

“I’ve personally been called,” Bluhm said, though she said many times she handles many of the cases and isn’t asked to serve. “My husband’s served on a jury. None of us are immune. I would say 50 to 60 percent of the people who do the questionnaires never hear from the court.”

Purcell added, “We had three jury trials last year. Cases get resolved prior to trial all the time. That’s why it’s important when you get summoned to be juror to make sure you call to know if you’re supposed to show up or not.”

While some folks may believe serving on a jury would be a hassle, Bluhm stresses people to be mindful if they receive a jury summons.

“Don’t ignore it,” she said. “The courts will have a show/cause hearing and find you.

“Jury trials take a lot of preparation. It’s part of our job to recognize and respect that. We’re almost as relieved as the jurors when they don’t have to go. But, it is our civic duty and the law. You should put yourself in that person’s shoes, if you afforded the right of a jury trial, it is important.”

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Posted by Brandon Fountain

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