Cullman County courts lay out new jury procedures

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Cullman County Courthouse (Cullman Tribune file photo)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Cullman County Presiding Judge Gregory Nicholas, after announcing last week that jury trials would resume the week of Sept. 14 with new COVID-19 safety procedures, released a brief video addressing prospective jurors along with the court’s administrative order laying out new procedures for electronic selection and qualification of jurors. A recent amendment to the state’s Rules of Judicial Administration allows the process to take place via the internet prior to in-person trial proceedings at the courthouse.

Said Nicholas to prospective jurors, “As we restart jury trials, I want each of you to know that your safety is a top priority. No court official would ever ask you to put your health at risk by serving on a jury. 

“Many of you have understandable fears about contracting COVID-19 due to your age or to an underlying health condition, and the law allows you to be excused from jury service because of those legitimate health concerns. If you do have worries about attending a public event such as a jury trial, please complete the online information form referenced in your jury summons to let us know. If you prefer, you can also call the telephone number listed on the website to speak with a court official that has been authorized to excuse you from jury service. Please remember that all requests to be excused should be made on or before Sept. 1. 

“For those of you that are able to serve as jurors during this very difficult time in our country, we appreciate your willingness to serve, now more than ever. Together, we will get through this. I look forward to seeing you in court.”

Order explains procedure

With the juror summonses being sent out for September trials, instructions will be included for online verification of jurors’ qualifications. For those prospective jurors who cannot or choose not to access the online resource, the court can also use other methods.

The administrative order reads as follows:

IN THE 32ND JUDICIAL CIRCUIT STATE OF ALABAMA

ADMINISTRATIVE ORDER 2020-11

An Order Relating to Electronic Juror Selection and Qualification

Whereas, Rule 46, Alabama Rules of Judicial Administration, has recently been amended to permit electronic selection and qualification of potential jurors through an internet-based data processing program maintained by the Administrative Office of Courts; and

Whereas, Rule 46 Alabama Rules of Judicial Administration grants discretion to the presiding circuit judge of each judicial circuit in this State to authorize such electronic selection and qualification of potential jurors, subject to the provisions of Rule 46;

Now, therefore, it is hereby ORDERED that after the date of this order, each juror summons issued for a jury trial to be held in the 32nd Judicial Circuit of the State of Alabama shall include instructions for a prospective juror to, if possible, electronically verify his or her qualifications to serve on a jury through a centralized internet-based data-processing program maintained by the Administrative Office of Courts (“AOC”).

Verification of Qualifications to Serve as Jurors

Each prospective juror completing an electronic juror qualification form, as adopted by the Alabama Administrative Office of Courts, shall declare, to the best of his or her ability, that he or she meets each of the following qualifications to serve on a jury in this judicial circuit:

  1. Is a citizen of the United States, has been a resident of Cullman County for more than 12 months, and is 19 years old or older;
  2. Is able to read, speak, understand, and follow instructions given by a judge in the English language;
  3. Is capable by reason of physical and mental ability to render satisfactory jury service and is not afflicted with any permanent disease or physical weakness whereby the prospective juror is unfit to discharge the duties of a juror even with reasonable accommodation;
  4. Has not lost the right to vote by conviction for any offense involving moral turpitude; and
  5. Does not display any signs and symptoms associated with diseases known to be transmitted through respiration;

 

Sworn Verification of Qualifications Required

It is further ORDERED that, upon the completion of an electronic form showing his or her qualifications to serve on a jury, each prospective juror shall be required to affirm or disaffirm the following oath:

“Do you solemnly swear (or affirm) that you have well and truly answered all questions propounded to you touching on your qualifications as a juror, so help you God?”

A prospective juror that affirms the required oath shall indicate his or her affirmation of the oath by electronically signing his or her name to the oath and returning it according to the instructions provided.  The electronic signature contained on the electronic juror qualification form adopted by AOC shall constitute a sworn acknowledgment by the individual who is electronically signing the form as to the truth of the declarations contained therein.  The receipt and acceptance of a qualified prospective juror’s affirmation of the above oath by the clerk of court or a circuit court judge sitting in this judicial circuit shall be deemed an acknowledgment of the prospective juror’s affirmation of the oath.

Electronic Signature Authorized. 

The electronic signature of a prospective juror shall conform to the requirements of Rule 30(G) of the Alabama Rules of Judicial Administration or as otherwise authorized by the rules or statutes adopted in this State for the use of electronic signatures. 

Qualification of Prospective Jurors.

The receipt and acceptance of a prospective juror’s affirmation of the oath by the clerk of court or by a circuit judge sitting in this judicial circuit shall be deemed an acknowledgment of the prospective juror’s affirmation of the oath.  However, even if an affirmation of the oath has been received electronically prior to the day prospective jurors are instructed to appear for court, a judge shall orally question prospective jurors regarding their qualifications to serve as jurors in this juridical circuit before voir dire begins to ensure that all prospective jurors continue to meet the minimum requirements to serve.

Disqualification of Prospective Juror.

If a prospective juror completing an electronic juror qualification form does not meet the minimum qualifications for serving as a juror or disaffirms the oath, the clerk or the court shall notify the prospective juror that he or she is not qualified to serve on a jury and/or inform the prospective juror that his or her service is not required.

Other Methods of Verification of Qualifications to Serve as Juror

If a prospective juror is unable or elects not to electronically verify his or her qualifications to serve as a juror in this judicial circuit as set forth in this order and as authorized by Rule 46, Alabama Rules of Judicial Administration, the court may determine the prospective juror’s qualifications to serve on a jury as otherwise provided by law and, if qualified, shall administer the oath to the prospective juror as otherwise provided by law.

The Circuit Court Clerk shall post a copy of this order on the court’s official website, cullmancourts.org and shall also provide a copy of this order to the Alabama Administrative Office of Courts.

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com