Ignoring jury questionnaire prompts contempt hearings

PARKERSBURG – Seven people who failed to return questionnaires for jury duty were in court Friday on contempt hearings.

Judge J.D. Beane said 39 people failed to return the questionnaires and they were summoned to explain why they did not. When people fail to prepare the form and return it to the circuit court clerk’s office, it puts a strain on the judicial system, Beane said.

“At times the pool of potential jurors gets thin and could cause a trial to be delayed,” he said. “One time we had two trials and we had to send those not selected to the other court so they could have enough jurors.”

Beane said the need for a magistrate court jury caused a circuit court trial to be delayed because there were not enough potential jurors for both trials.

Not submitting the form falls under failure to perform jury service.

According to West Virginia Code 52-1-24, “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.”

Beane said the only way the court can know if a person is excused by age or other reason is through the questionnaire.

“It’s the only way we can know who is eligible for jury duty, if you are exempt by age you have to mark it,” he said. “We had one man who thought he was exempt because he did not register to vote, he didn’t know we pull names from those who have driver’s licenses.”

Information on the form tells the court a person’s:

* name, sex, race, age and marital status

* level of educational attainment, occupation and place of employment

* if married the name of the juror’s spouse and the occupation and place of employment of the spouse

* juror’s address and mailing address if different from the physical address

* number of children which the juror has and their ages

* whether the juror is a citizen of the United States and a resident of the county

* whether the juror is able to read, speak and understand the English language.

* whether the juror has any physical or mental disability substantially impairing the capacity to render satisfactory jury service, provided, that a juror with a physical disability, who can with reasonable accommodation render competent service, is eligible for service.

* whether the juror has, within the preceding two years, been summoned to serve as a petit juror, grand juror or magistrate court juror, and has actually attended sessions of the magistrate or circuit court and been reimbursed for his or her expenses as a juror; whether the juror has lost the right to vote because of a criminal conviction; and whether the juror has been convicted of perjury, false swearing or other infamous offense.

Beane said people who receive the form have 10 days to return it and an addressed, stamped envelope is included with the form for its return.

West Virginia Code 52-1-5 states each county must maintain a master list of potential jurors and that list is made from using two of three source lists. They are persons who have filed a state personal income tax return for the preceding tax year, persons who are registered to vote in the county and those who hold a valid motor vehicle operator’s or chauffeur’s license as determined from the drivers’ license lists provided by the division of motor vehicles.

Beane said no fines were imposed after Friday’s hearings that were conducted in his chambers.

“We just want to drive home the point that it is important to fill out that form,” he said. More hearings may take place, he said.