Judge, attorney discuss impacts of common juror exemptions

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – A jury of your peers.

But is it truly always an accurate representation of your peers?

The short answer, no.

Juries are looking a little different today than they did before the pandemic, but even before the pandemic, certain groups of people are less likely to serve on a jury than others.

The issue has always been around in some way or another as women and minorities were added to the jury pool.

One group of people that will never serve on a jury are nursing mothers.

They are exempt without a judge’s approval.

Oftentimes, judges will excuse someone who cannot afford to miss work for only $12.50 per day, removing a portion of the lower class from the jury pool, especially for higher profile cases where the trial may take more time to complete.

This issue could potentially impact the outcome of a trial according to attorney Mike Owsley.

“That means you don’t have a pool that represents the community as a whole. So that does affect it. It’s hard to quantify how that affects it. In the sense of whether it makes a difference in the verdict, I think it probably does, but I can’t really measure how it does that,” said Owsley.

Single mothers who may not have easy access to childcare are oftentimes exempt from jury duty, according to Warren County Circuit Court Judge Steve Wilson.

He says this issue never really crossed his mind until he was asked about it.

He says he just finished putting together a pool of jurors and really thought back at who he excused and why.

“The children need her. She can’t afford to serve. But I’ve taken these people out of the pool and it’s a concept that really I had not thought of before,” said Wilson.

Keep in mind, while most judges will excuse people if serving causes a significant impact on the juror, not all will.

“He may choose to, or she may choose to, but the judge is not required to excused it. They’re only required to excuse people who have a permanent disability,” said Owsley.

Low income individuals with jobs that do not pay for jury duty and single parents are not the only ones oftentimes excused from jury duty.

Right now, with all of the employee shortages causing problems in the supply chain and medical field, truckers and medical personnel are oftentimes exempted and sent back to work.

Wilson says it’s not the best case scenario to remove teachers, nurses or CDL drivers from the jury pool, but it is necessary oftentimes in the current workforce climate.

“All of the different concepts of community impact the collective thinking of the jury as a whole and you don’t want to take out a segment. You know, I don’t want to take out the teachers during the school year and just put them in the summer,” said Wilson.

He says having even one piece removed from the puzzle could leave out a viewpoint, but the issue isn’t one that has an immediate solution.

“Their economic hardship has to come into consideration especially when we’re paying them $12.50 a day, but it brings a different perspective as to who were taking out of the jury,” said Wilson.

Many employers stop the issue in its tracks for their employees by agreeing to pay the juror their typical pay during their jury duty, or make up the difference after the juror receives the $12.50 per day working.

Those employers do this to allow their employees the opportunity to serve out their patriotic duty to justice.

Wilson says, in Warren County, there are usually only a handful of trial by jury cases per year. Typically, people plead out before their trial date.

Wilson also says upping the pay to a higher rate could actually impact a jury by encouraging people to want to serve for financial gain and not out of the honor of the duty to the justice system.

You are eligible to be called in for jury duty if you have a drivers license, are registered to vote or own property.