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Jury duty is not easy, but it is a privilege of citizenship

I have some questions concerning jury duty.

How do they go about picking you from voter polls? What steps take place if you are selected? And finally, how, if need be, do you get out of it?

Thanks. L.R.

Response: A new Florida law requires that jurors be picked from licensed drivers instead of from lists of registered voters. It was passed because some people, in order to avoid jury duty, were not registering to vote.

The law won't go into effect for six years, however, because election officials need current addresses for jury lists and it takes that long for all drivers to renew their licenses.

Right now a computer pulls at random the names of some 45,000 registered voters in Pinellas County and puts them into a pool. That happens in January. During the year more random drawings are made from that pool to determine who will appear at a courthouse on a given week for jury duty.

Jury summonses are mailed a month in advance. A summons includes directions, parking instructions and a form to send back if you wish to be excused from jury duty. A postcard will tell you whether your excuse has been accepted.

On your first day of duty you listen to a judge's welcome speech and watch an orientation film. Another opportunity is provided for persons who feel they need to be excused.

The jury pool spends much of its time in a large jury lounge waiting for individual names to be called (which is why it is wise to bring reading material, knitting or playing cards). Since this involves another random selection, some names are called frequently and, if there are not many trials that week, some may not be called at all. These jury panels are taken to courtrooms where judges and attorneys go through the process of jury selection in individual cases.

If you are chosen for a jury you sit in a jury box and listen _ to the judge and the attorneys and the witnesses. Breaks are provided at regular intervals including lunch, at which times the judge will instruct you not to read or speak about the case to anyone, including other jurors.

When the case is concluded, the judge will give you instructions and send you to a jury room. There jury members pick a foreman or forewoman and then discuss the evidence and take votes until they agree on a verdict. If they can't agree, a new trial can be ordered or the case dropped.

The average trial takes a day or two.

Jurors are paid l4 cents a mile round trip for transportation based on their precincts.

After the first day of duty, jurors are given a phone number to call to find out whether they need to report the next day.

As for being excused from jury duty, certain persons, including the governor, police officers, judges and convicted felons are automatically disqualified as jurors.

You can request to be excused from jury duty if you are age 70 or older, if you are an expectant mother or a parent not employed full time who has custody of a child under 6, if you are caring for an invalid, if you are a practicing lawyer or physician, if you are physically infirm, if you can show that jury service would cause hardship or extreme inconvenience, or if you have served on a jury in the past two years.

If you have something important scheduled for that week _ a vacation, surgery, final exams, etc. _ your jury duty may be moved to another week.

A juror's role is not an easy one. It will inconvenience you and may cause you to lose income.

But jury duty is one of the few opportunities you will have to participate directly in the administration of justice and to protect people's rights and liberties.

Imagine yourself or a loved one going on trial knowing that all the intelligent and sensible members of your community would ask to be excused from jury duty.

For more information about jury duty, watch a four-minute film called You and Jury Duty that will run today only at 10 a.m., 4:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Paragon channel 17 or 36, Vision channel 25 and TCI channel 6.

Action solves problems and gets answers for you. If you have a question, or your own attempts to resolve a consumer complaint have failed, write: Times Action, c/o the City Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg 33731, or call your Action number, 893-8171, to leave a recorded request for Action.

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We may require additional information or prefer to reply by mail; therefore, readers must provide a full mailing address, including ZIP code. Upon request, names will not be published.

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