Law of the West
Well, it has finally happened. During my career in the legal and criminal justice systems, I have been in every role, but one. In college, I was a defendant and fought a speeding ticket ” successfully. I have served as a defense attorney and as the prosecutor. When I was a police officer and sheriff, I served as a bailiff. For several years, I have been able to observe the courtroom from the perspective of the judge’s bench. But, the role I always wanted to experience has eluded me … until this last week … when my first jury summons arrived.
The computer generated notice from the Jury Commissioner’s Office says that I am Juror #2080. The notice is really informative and upbeat in its tone. It speaks of qualifications, juror fees, even outlines how to request a postponement of your civic duty. There is even a juror questionnaire to complete, along with a map to the courthouse. But, the notice did leave me wondering what the differences between Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska might be.
In Colorado, the pool of prospective jurors is drawn from three sources: voter registrations, driving records and state income tax records. Certainly, the combination of these three lists cast a wide net likely to ensnare ever resident who would be qualified to sit as a juror. Those qualifications are: 18 or older, resident from the jurisdiction which summoned you, U.S. citizen, and the ability to read, write and speak in English. Additionally, the law in Colorado provides for some folks to be excluded from service based upon prior jury service within last year, a documented disability that would prevent service, being the indispensable caregiver of a disabled person, or a felony conviction.
Now, where I first started to practice, legend was that the late Judge Hamm, from time to time, would not have enough prospective jurors summoned for court and would run out in real controversial cases. Story goes that he would send out the sheriff to round-up prospective jurors off the street, like so many stray calves. While I can’t find the legal authority for that process today, each of our states do provide for emergency summons for jury duty to be issued. But, those summonses come from the same master jury list and are directed to specific folk. It doesn’t seem that Judge Hamm could sweep the streets for jurors today. Imagine going to Wal-mart in the morning and ending up in the jury box in the afternoon!
As I dug through the law a little deeper, I did notice that there are considerable differences in the laws between our states when it comes to jury duty. In Nebraska for example, there is a list of folks that are disqualified from service due to their occupation or their spouse’s occupation ” judges, sheriffs, jailers, etc. Also, Nebraska specifically states that a husband and wife may not serve on the same jury panel.
There are two common threads in the three states. The first is that the failure to obey a jury summons is serious. In Colorado, it can be punished by up to a $750 fine and six months in jail. In Wyoming and Nebraska it is punished as contempt of court and you are subject to immediate arrest.
The other common thread is protection of employment. In all three states, there are specific laws that protect your employment when summoned to jury duty. In each state, there are criminal penalties against employers that treat employees adversely because of jury duty or who attempt to interfere with an employee’s jury service. In Colorado, employed jurors are actually paid by their employers for jury duty for the first three days. In our three states, juror fees range from $30 to $50 a day, depending on the court and state.
So there is a quick overview of jury service. I am looking forward to Tuesday morning and the possibility of serving on a jury, as I would hope that everyone else that is summoned would be. It is a duty to serve our communities in this way; and if selected to actually hear and decide a case, it is perhaps the most solemn and difficult obligation we ever are asked to perform.
The information provided in this column is based upon general principles of law and should not be relied upon in any manner. It is not the intent of this column, its author, publisher or the Fence Post to provide legal advice to any person. You should address specific legal questions to your family lawyer. In Wyoming, the State Bar can refer you to competent lawyers in your community by calling (307) 634-7823. In Colorado, call the Metropolitan Lawyer Referral Service at (303) 831-8000. Readers in Nebraska can receive referrals from the State Bar Association by calling 1-800-742-3005.
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