New method for creating jury pools in Georgia

For some, the arrival of a jury summons in the mail seems like an annual ritual, while others have never even been called for jury duty. For most people, the selection process for jury duty appears confusing and random.

But a new Georgia law that went into effect in July 2012 has changed the way jury pools are created. The pool of citizens eligible for jury duty, which once was tied to registered voter lists, has been greatly expanded to include the state’s entire driver’s license database.

This new system is much more inclusive, giving everyone a fairer shot at getting called to the courthouse.

Rustin Smith, an attorney with Stewart, Melvin & Frost and former attorney in the Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office, asked District Attorney Lee Darragh to discuss this new law.

Question: How were jury pools created previously?

Lee: Georgia was the only state in the U.S. that had a forced balancing procedure for jury pools. What I mean by that is the population has certain percentages of Caucasians, African American, Hispanics, etc. and each group is also differentiated between male and female. Jury commissioners had to make sure the numbers of each of those groups in the jury pool matched their percentages in the population. That became a real challenge when one of the requirements for jury balancing was whether the person is a citizen. As a result of the forced balancing, there were only 33,000 who were in the Hall County jury pool.

Question: How has this new method changed the jury pool?

Lee: Under the new method there are over 160,000 names in Hall County alone from which jury pools can be selected. It’s a more inclusive method.

Question: Is it a better system?

Rustin: I think so. It is a simpler system for the government to coordinate. All the studies I’ve read conclude this system should create a more diverse jury pool. Therefore it creates a fairer trial because the jury pool is larger.

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