Heather Farr enjoys spending time at home with her kids, but she’ll have no problem giving up a game of Connect Four to be part of a jury of 12.
“Whatever you’ve got going on, you’re part of a bigger picture and it’s not always about you,” Farr said.
The last time Farr performed jury duty, she fell just short of landing on a case. Farr said she was disappointed as she was eager to fulfill her civic duty and be part of the American justice system.
“I’m going to be paying attention and I’m going to give this person the best that I can do and think what is reasonable and what is not so reasonable,” Farr said.
Jury trials happen in Mid-Michigan every day, resulting in a high demand for jurors required to do their part to ensure justice for all.
However, plenty of prospective jurors fail to show up to court.
In 2016, there were 7,628 people summoned as prospective jurors to Saginaw County's 10th Circuit Court. Of that number, the court ordered 4,973 jurors to report to the court house.
However, only 3,148 jurors showed up. That's a 37 percent no-show rate. Meanwhile, the state of Michigan saw a 32 percent no-show rate for 2016.
"That's not a good number. And all I can tell them is listen, it's more important that you report even if you don't think you can serve than not report,” said Saginaw County Judge Darnell Jackson.
Jackson said if you don’t fill out the questionnaire you get in the mail and you don’t show up, you could be arrested.
"We can do a bench warrant on them. Which means they can be stopped at any time and they'll come to court after going to jail and explain to us why they didn't do it then. And so, you avoid all this hassle if you will, just by answering that first questionnaire,” Jackson said.
Court administrators said during the last 14 months, 12 people have been arrested and jailed for their failure to be present for jury duty.
Those who show up for jury duty are likely to end up in a courtroom.
Last year, 89 percent of jurors who reported in Saginaw County made it to jury selection, which is 17 percentage points higher than the state average of 72 percent.
Of course, that doesn't mean you'll be selected to sit on an actual trial.
Attorneys like James Piazza decide who makes it through jury selection and hear a case.
Piazza said both the prosecution and defense have an unlimited number of cause challenges allowing them to remove a prospective juror from the jury pool if they know someone involved in the case, know about the case, or any other reason that would warrant a conflict of interest.
Piazza also said attorneys have a set number of peremptory challenges depending on the type of case presented to the court. These challenges allow an attorney to eliminate a prospective juror from a jury pool without giving a reason.
He said what he looks for in a juror depends on the type of case he's arguing, but one thing he always looks for is fairness.
"You find some people when they walk into the courtroom, I ask a question you know, ‘How many people wonder what my client did?’ And a lot of people raise their hand. Some of those people I talk with they say they can set aside that presumption of guilt. And that's what I’m looking for people that have an open mind and is willing to listen,” Piazza said.
Thousands of people each year play a part in keeping the wheels of justice turning – a fact that Jackson doesn’t take lightly.
"At the end of a trial I always apologize for having them here. We take them out of their busy lives. We stick them in a room for hours at a time. We send them here; we take them there. Lots of times they don't even know what's going on. And so, I apologize to jurors saying, ‘I know this is not convenient being on a jury but it's important to be on a jury,’" Jackson said.
For her part, Farr would not accept a judge's apology because she wanted to be a juror, regardless of the shortcomings some people associate with the civic duty.
"Know that you're the person that might be the deciding factor in changing someone's life,” she said.
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