No-shows put jury duty system in Norfolk in peril

The courts in Norfolk often experience a shortage of jurors. The situation creates an issue, in part, with holding some trials in a timely manner.

NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- You've heard it before: Justice delayed is justice denied. That maxim is pushed to the limits in Norfolk where the jury duty system is in peril.

So far, only about half of criminal and civil cases scheduled for the year have taken place. Some civil cases are settled out of court, or in criminal cases, the defendant pleads guilty.

As part of that trend, four cases were delayed because too many people who were ordered to report for jury duty were no-shows.

Norfolk's response rate is slightly lower than the national average of 30 percent. Recently, however, there have been cases in which the response rate dipped to unprecedented lows.

Judge David Lannetti offered a grim assessment.
    
'We have continued to have abysmal no-show rates in some cases less than ten percent of those who are called for jury duty are appearing, and it's having detrimental effects on our administration of justice," Lannetti told 13News Now.

The courts blame millennials, young adults who refuse to weigh in on the scales of justice.

During the past 12 months in Norfolk, 10 thousand people were summoned for jury duty. 7,200 of them were no-shows.

Here's a breakdown of the no-shows by their generation groups:

  • 7 percent Greatest Generation
  • 22 percent Baby boomers
  • 23 percent Generation Xers
  • 49 percent Millennials

Lannetti is frustrated with the lack of participation in a process that is critical to the justice system.

"We'll summons 200 to 300 people to come in on any given day; 20-30 people might show up. Even though you only need 12 for a jury trial, there's an opportunity to strike jurors," explained Lannetti. "We typically start with 30 to get down to that 12."

If the trend continues, Lannetti and his colleagues worry trial delays could lead to guilty, dangerous criminals getting released while innocent people remain behind bars.

Twice this year, the court rounded up no-shows, hauled them into court, and slapped them with a $100 fine. Even with such drastic measures, the court is in a losing battle with the no-shows. 

The missing millennials crisis has prompted the court to step-up its digital pursuit of them.

Clerk of Court George Schaefer has something of a "Jury Duty 101" video on  YouTube, and he has digitized the jury duty notification and follow-up process.

"We purchased software that you register online. You can set reminders, and text reminders to our jurors. We can also email reminders to our jurors. We are trying to meet them where they live," said Schaefer.

Although protests across the country decrying injustice often feature a large number of millennials, Schaefer said there's a more effective way for young citizens to have their voices heard in the justice system.

"If you want justice, you are part of the solution.  We need you here, and I would hope that everybody in our town would recognize their role and responsibility," said Schaefer.

© 2017 WVEC-TV


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