If you’re registered to vote in the Virgin Islands, or licensed to drive on its roadways, you are a candidate for the receipt of a friendly but serious letter welcoming you to perform a civic duty: be part of a jury pool at the V.I. Superior Court.
Just how does the court ensure that jury pools are selected randomly and how many people are tapped for jury duty in comparison with the number of cases handled?
That’s what Source reader Jason Budsan wanted to know. Court administrator Glendia Caines supplied the answers.
“Right now it’s not done here at the court … It’s nobody here selecting,” she said. “It’s done off-island from data bases” supplied by the V.I. Elections Board and by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, she said, adding, “It’s a computerized selection process.”
It’s been automated for some time, but it used to be managed locally. About two years ago, the court contracted with a company called Jury Systems Inc. to handle the process. The company provides that service to many courts across the country.
Not only does the automated system pull names and addresses from the voters’ and drivers’ lists, “They send out the summons, everything,” Caines said.
Each quarter summonses are sent to approximately 1,000 potential jurors in St. Croix and 1,000 for St. Thomas-St. John, she said. Typically 200 to 250 are actually selected to serve in each district. Those people are in a jury pool for a three-month term.
So many are called but few are chosen, and there are a number of reasons for that, she said.
One is that the data bases contain too much outdated information, especially concerning mailing addresses.
“That’s a big problem,” Caines said. “We have been seeing our numbers (of responses) dwindling.”
Then there are the scofflaws who ignore the summons. They do so at their own peril since, as the court’s website says, “Failure to appear constitutes contempt of court and is punishable by a fine or imprisonment. ”
Historically both Superior and District Courts have generally taken a lenient stance on the issue, but every so often a judge will hold a “show cause hearing,” requiring people to explain why they didn’t honor a jury summons. And Caines said the new system provides a list of those individuals that is sent to the judge.
Inevitably a few of the 1,000 summonses will go to residents who have legitimate reasons not to serve on a jury panel, with age probably being the most common.
“If you’re 70 and above, you’re not required,” Caines said. “You’re exempt.” But you need to so notify the court, she added, and you aren’t prohibited from serving because of your age. You may volunteer if you want.
The age exemption is automatic; others are on a case-by-case basis.
Occasionally a resident will receive a jury summons from both Superior and District Court for the same term.
“The one (court) you got the summons from first usually trumps,” in such an instance, Caines said.
In the St. Thomas-St. John district, Superior Court hears “upwards of 500” criminal jury cases a year, she said. On St. Croix, the annual average is about 250 to 300.
So with a jury pool of just 200 to 250 each quarter, or 800 to 1,000 annually, it’s not surprising that some residents have served repeatedly.