Jury duty summons not optional

Thirty-nine Wood County residents are learning, the hard way, that failure to comply with West Virginia Code pertaining to responding to a prospective juror’s questionnaire can be expensive.

Circuit Court Judge J.D. Beane apparently reached his limit on prospective jurors ignoring the state-mandated form required before one is summoned for jury duty.

Beane issued contempt citations for 39 people who had not returned the forms and ordered them to stand before him on March 29. Seven were found and were warned but no fines or imprisonments were ordered.

State code is very specific on procedure pertaining to jury duty, which Beane drove home to those before him.

Code 52-1-5a. states: “Jury qualification form; contents; procedure for use; penalties.

(a) Not less than 20 days before the date for which persons are to report for jury duty, the clerk may, if directed by the court, serve by first class mail, upon each person listed on the master list, a juror qualification form accompanied by instructions necessary for its completion: Provided, That the clerk may, if directed by the court, mail the juror qualification form to only those prospective jurors drawn for jury service under the provisions of section seven of this article. Each prospective juror shall be directed to complete the form and return it by mail to the clerk within 10 days after its receipt…..

“The juror qualification form shall contain the prospective juror’s declaration that the responses are true to the best of the prospective juror’s knowledge and an acknowledgment that a willful misrepresentation of a material fact may be punished by a fine of not more than $500 or imprisonment for not more than 30 days, or both fine and imprisonment….

“Any prospective juror who fails to return a completed juror qualification form as instructed shall be directed by the clerk to appear forthwith before the clerk to fill out the juror qualification form. At the time of the prospective juror’s appearance for jury service, or at the time of any interview before the court or clerk, any prospective juror may be required to fill out another juror qualification form in the presence of the court or clerk. At that time the prospective juror may be questioned with regard to the responses to questions contained on the form and the grounds for the prospective juror’s excuse or disqualification. Any information thus acquired by the court or clerk shall be noted on the juror qualification form.

“Any person who willfully misrepresents a material fact on a juror qualification form or during any interview described in subsection (c) of this section, for the purpose of avoiding or securing service as a juror, is guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction, shall be fined not more than $500 or imprisoned not more than 30 days, or both fined and imprisoned.”

State Code 52-1-24 further states, “A person summoned for jury service who fails to appear or to complete jury service as directed shall be ordered by the court to appear forthwith and show cause for failure to comply with the summons. If the person fails to show good cause for noncompliance with the summons, the person is guilty of civil contempt and, shall be fined not more than $1,000.”

I have to admit, I don’t know anyone who enjoys being called for jury duty, including my wife who has been called twice and me who also has been called twice, but that doesn’t negate our responsibility to answer the questionnaire and report for jury duty if summoned. To do otherwise is and should be a crime …. and Judge Beane was right to call the 39 out for their misconduct and would have been within the law to fine or imprison them to drive the point home even more distinctly.

Contact Jim Smith at jsmith@newsandsentinel.com