The verdict is in. The new jury selection standard is a benefit to citizens, Forsyth County officials say.
“This is a good change,” said Clerk of the Superior Court of Forsyth County Greg Allen. “We now have a jury system that statewide in all 159 counties includes every citizen eligible for jury service.”
The change, as outlined in the Jury Composition Reform Act of 2011, opens up the jury selection process statewide. In Forsyth County, that translates to 12 times as many potential jurors.
“This is a radical change as we now have a new jury pool of 144,698 names of persons who may be summoned for service as jurors for traverse jury trials and the grand jury,” Allen said.
The process was previously limited to about 13,000 jurors between the traverse and grand juries. The old system used “forced balancing” of jury pools to ensure the groups were not skewed according to gender or race.
Allen said his office would pull jurors to be proportionate to the county’s racial and gender ratios, based on the latest U.S. Census data.
“They had to be representative in the [pool],” he said. “Whatever percentage of your population was that particular race or gender, it had to be the same in the box. Now since they’re including everyone, obviously you can’t discriminate.”
Allen said the balancing wasn’t a major issue in Forsyth, but others had to exclude people from the jury pool to make sure there was a fair division.
Georgia, he noted, was one of the final states to make the switch.
District 23 state Rep. Mark Hamilton, R-Cumming, said the process of getting the bill passed took some extra work to avoid any unintended consequences.
“This is a very complicated area of state law,” Hamilton said. “But the reason that we did this was … to create a more efficient process and also to address any concerns that we might have had with the U.S. constitutionality of it.
“Based on the bill we ultimately passed, which had bipartisan support, we were able to meet the needs of the creations of the jury pool, as well as jury selections throughout the state of Georgia.”
Allen said the pools previously would be rebalanced every one to two years, which meant only those 13,000 people selected could serve on a jury during that time period.
In 2011, nearly 7,000 residents served on a jury. So far in 2012, about 6,000 have served, Allen said.
Now, all Forsyth residents with a valid driver’s license will be eligible to serve, as are those who have registered to vote, with a few exceptions.
Allen said the new process will make it more of a lottery system, mutually beneficial to both those who want to be picked and those who don’t want to serve more than once.
“With our large population, mathematically, chances are slim to none that you’ll be picked to serve more than once a year,” Allen said.
“We had people that wanted to serve and never got put into that 12,000 box, but now we have almost 145,000 people eligible.”