Crime victims get used to the trials and tribulations that come with the role… They get used to the inconveniences, the disrespect. However, the one arena in which major change can be affected, the arena that is like climbing Mount Everest on a bad weather day, is the legislative arena.
Ladyjustice has spearheaded legislation twice. One bill did not pass and the second passed partially, giving LJ the opportunity to be invited to the bill signing with former Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell. (These bills were not crime victim related, but healthcare issues.) The passage of crime victim related bills has not been smooth or necessarily successful. Legislators are very reticent about mucking around with concepts like the death penalty and the right to bear arms in this Southern New England state. It must be noted that the present death penalty “in name only” was nearly squashed, had it not been for the articulate appeal of one Dr. William Petit, Jr. and the change of heart and minds of two legislators within the past year…
But, the real focus of this blog is one particular proposed bill: Senate Bill No 960 “An Act Exempting Immediate Family Members of Murder and Manslaughter Victims from the Jury Summoning Process in Certain Criminal Actions.” Don’t get too excited…. It died in Committee, as they say in legislative lingo. In fact, there was also a nearly identical bill, Senate Bill No. 334 introduced by other legislators which also failed to make it through the process.
The bill history shows that it started by introduction by a particular Senator, and referred to the Joint Committee on Judiciary on February 16, 2011 (This Committee has oversight over all matters relating to courts, judicial procedures, criminal law, probate courts, probation, parole, wills, estates, adoption, divorce, bankruptcy,…and 18 other entities); A public hearing was held, substitute language was inserted, then referred to the Office of Legislative Research and the Office of Fiscal Analysis by the end of April.
OLR is the research arm of the General Assembly, It “does the homework” for legislators analyses bills, does research and writes reports on a variety of topics. The Office of Fiscal Analysis tries to determine what the fiscal impact will be if and when the bill is enacted as well as in the “out years.”) Next, it was back to the Legislative Commissioner’s Office to check on constitutionality, add amendments, clarity language, grammar and punctuation. This bill was voted on favorably by all 45 members of the Judiciary Committee. However, when it was placed on the Calendar for consideration in the Senate, in the beginning of May, it died….. Sometimes it’s due to the time factor particularly in a “SHORT legislative session” (3 months- February thru May in the odd numbered years and the LONG session; 5 months –January thru June in the even numbered years!) [Ladyjustice- You just can’t make this stuff up…. Our founding fathers were so busy thinking of quirky little rules!]
In short, the purpose of Senate Bills 360 and 334 prior to dying on the legislative vine would have allowed selected surviving members of a murder or pre-existing homicide victim to request to be excluded from the jury summoning process. (i.e. being called for jury duty) for criminal cases involving murder or manslaughter). [Note: Other types of criminal cases appear to not be included in the exemptions! Is half a loaf better than none?] The bill goes on to say that such exemptions would apply to those persons whose spouse, child, sibling or parent was the aforementioned crimes. Furthermore, the Jury Administrator would be required to establish and maintain such an exclusionary list. Bill 960 would also allow a crime victim the option to rescind such a request. Question: Why would a crime victim ever want to put themselves through this process again?? Advocacy and your civic duty can be accomplished in alternate ways…
On a personal note, Ladyjustice has been subjected to many jury notices for criminal cases over the years, with two instances actually making it to court, only to be rejected primarily by defense counsel’s objections. And… this writer was forthcoming to the judge regarding her career aspirations to work as a crime victim advocate. Case closed that time around!
Common sense should prevail… You take time off from work and are compensated “nearly nothing” for your time. You sit in an antiquated building in an overly hot or cold back room for hours, no compensation for nourishment, only to be rejected when the immediate family member’s history is revealed. ‘Such a waste of time, money, resources and energy for the potential crime victim juror and court operations!
Another valid consideration that most current and former legislators consulted by Ladyjustice prior to writing this blog, are the potential emotional triggers for crime victims participating in this process…. A re-victimization if you will.
As Michelle Cruz, State Victim Advocate, Executive Branch stated during the public hearing: “The process of going to a courthouse or sitting in a courtroom, may, for some surviving family members of a victim of homicide, cause unnecessary trauma or re-victimization. The decision to serve can only be made by that surviving family member. Should the surviving family member reconsider this decision, the surviving family member may rescind this request at any time with written notification to the Jury Administrator.
The Office of Victim Advocate requests the Committee consider adding the following language: “Upon receipt of a request from a surviving family member of a homicide victim to be excluded from the summoning process, the Jury Administrator shall send, via certified mail, confirmation of such request and contact information for the Jury Administrator for future requests, if any”. This will ensure that a surviving family member is informed of their decision and provided with the contact information of the Jury Administrator should they choose to rescind their request at a later date.”
A second appeal on emotional grounds was issued by former facilitators of Connecticut’s non-profit, Survivor of Homicide, Inc., Sam and Wanda Reiger.
“We have experienced the ultimate tragedy; losing a child to violence. Anything may trigger your regression back to the tragedy or the trial. Certainly, the legislature and the criminal justice system should acknowledge this fact and do everything they can to prevent these horrific recalls. Wanda and I strongly urge you to pass this bill so that homicide survivors no longer need to face the prospect of having to enter the courthouse for jury selection.”
Ladyjustice learned that she may assist in facilitating the reintroduction of this bill through a Judiciary Committee co-Chair for the 2012, along with other homicide survivors in the upcoming 2012 session. Fair warning… it’s a short session concentrating on education, employment and budget issues…
This blogger conducted internet research across the country attempting to locate similar bills. Apparently, no other state has raised this issue or anything close to it including the states of Texas, Oregon, Washington State, California, Pennsylvania, California and South Carolina.
However, the State of Michigan may potentially have a new law (HB4691) in 2012 to exempt breast feeding women from participation in the jury selection process until after the baby is weaned. This bill passed in the House on November 8, 2011 and will be taken up by the Senate in 2012. In addition, this bill as drafted calls for a midwife or “lactation consultant” to automatically be exempted as well. Of course, there are proponents and opponents to this bill. Reportedly, when a 39 year old breastfeeding mother received a jury summons, this issue rose again to the legislative level.
According to the Detroit Free Press, comments ranged from, a breastfeeding Mom who said, “It’s really important to encourage Moms who breastfeed” to a Wayne State University law professor who said, “Only in trials for crimes such as child abuse would it make sense to seat a nursing Mom.” (What do you say, fellow bloggers?)
The Usual Exemptions:
The usual exemptions for jury duty are fairly standard across all states.
Let’s take South Carolina as an example…..and add if needed.
“Excuses from Service”
1) Persons over 70 years of age;
2) Persons who have served as a grand or petit juror (i.e. trial jury of 12 persons in civil or criminal cases) within the past two years;
3) Persons having active care and custody of children under ten years whose health or safety would be jeopardized by their absence for jury service;
4) Any person whose services are so essential to the operation of a business commercial or agricultural enterprise that it must close, if that person is required to perform jury duty;
5) Volunteer safety personnel – such as fire fighters or members of a rescue or ambulance crew.
“Additional Excuses”- Compliments of the Connecticut Legislature [LJ- We have more laws than we know what do with….]
1) Any quality which will impair the capacity to serve as juror (except deafness or hearing impairment);
2) Any person convicted of a felony within the past seven years; is a defendant in a felony case or in custody of the Commissioner of Corrections;
3) Any person who is not able to speak or understand the English language;
4) Any Constitutional Officer – Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, Comptroller or the Attorney General;
5) Any judge of the Probate Court, Superior, Appellate, Supreme Court or Magistrate;
6) Any member of the Connecticut General Assembly while in session;
7) Any person incapable by reason of a physical or mental disability for close attention for six hours per day ( excused via letter by a licensed health care provider).
*** Are you paying attention South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley? Maybe you need to add a few more exemptions…. Or, are you too busy on jury duty to address the out of control intimate partner violence and human trafficking problems in your State?
As far as legislation goes… it’s always better luck next time…. Another session, another day!
Ladyjustice intended to end with a somewhat entertaining, but somewhat unethical list of excuses to try to get out of jury duty from a guy writing on “mytwodollars.com.” On second thought, let’s not encourage such jerks!
The Ethical Ladyjustice
Donna Gore is a champion of victims rights and justice. She is a survivor of homicide and has turned her personal situations into a positive approach to life by participating in several areas of victim services. www.donnagore.com If you would like to schedule Donna for your next event, contact ImaginePublicity at 843.808.0859 or email: [email protected]