NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Jury duty. Love it or hate it, it's your civic responsibility. But we found out almost every week in New Hanover County, at least 100 people are summoned for jury duty, and then fail to show up at the courthouse. Often, without even calling in an excuse.
Conflicts with work, childcare, and medical hardships make it difficult for many people to serve on a jury. But there are some people with no good excuse - who just don't want to do it.
"I think that unfortunately word gets out, and that people just think that they are above the law, and that they're allowed to not show and if they don't show that there are no consequences," explained New Hanover County Clerk of Superior Court Jan Kennedy.
She says she's heard every excuse in the book from people trying to get out of jury duty, but perhaps most disturbing is people who never respond to their jury summons at all.
If a potential juror doesn't show up, the judge can hold them in contempt - fining them or even putting them in jail. But Chief District Court Judge J.H. Corpening says that's rare.
"If we don't have enough jurors, then action has been taken before… but typically we have enough," explained Corpening. "When we send out the request, even with the deferrals and excused absences we typically have enough [jurors] to function."
Even if there are enough jurors to function, no-shows add to the burden for the people who take the time to show up, and who may be getting called for jury duty more often because of all the no-shows.
"The burden is you have to summon more people to court," says Kennedy. "You have to summon them for jury duty, and you increase the volume of people who are being inconvenienced."
While you can only be called for jury duty every two years, New Hanover County has to summon an average of 400 people a week just to have enough jurors to fill the jury box in two courtrooms.
The main deterrent to going after people who fail to show up for jury duty is manpower. The judge has to issue a show cause order for those who fail to appear for jury duty, and then a deputy or police officer has to serve the no-show juror. The clerk's office would then create a file, and the offender would have to have a court date scheduled to explain themselves before the judge.
But be warned - New Hanover County judges have held no-show jurors in contempt before. Several years ago, Superior Court Judge Jay Hockenbury issued a show-cause order for every single person who failed to report for jury duty. He spent an entire day interviewing each of them in person at the court house, asking why they shirked their civic duty. Hockenbury told us it's important to do a spot check like that now and then to make sure people are taking jury duty seriously.
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