The changes should mean that residents will be called to jury duty less often.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- It's not going to be so easy to avoid jury duty in Lawrence County anymore.
Come November, anyone with a driver's license could potentially be called to serve on a criminal or civil jury. People registered to vote now are chosen for jury duty.
This change in the pool of potential jurors is part of President Judge Ralph D. Pratt's plan to increase the number of people eligible to serve as jurors.
"The change is needed to get a wider and more varied cross section of jurors," said Philip Boudewyns, county court administrator, who is assisting Judge Pratt with the changes. "When a panel of jurors is called they will truly be someone's peers and not just the people who vote within Lawrence County."
Present system: About 10,000 registered voters are randomly picked each August and sent questionnaires about jury duty. The court administrator said only about half are usually eligible to serve on a jury, the others may have died, moved or been convicted of a crime that would prevent them from serving.
The new system, which combines voter registration and driver's license records, will open up the pool of potential jurors to about 40,000 people each year, Boudewyns said.
The larger group should mean a person will only be called to serve on a jury once every seven years. Some people are being called to jury duty as often as every three or four years, Boudewyns said.
He said county real estate records also were looked at as a means for finding new people to serve on juries, but the records were not compatible with the court computer system.
Other changes: In addition to the influx of potential jurors, Judge Pratt also is making some other changes.
Instead of sending out a mass mailing of questions to 10,000 people each August, there will be regular mailings to about 250 people about six weeks before each trial term.
Those who are eligible to serve will then be sent a second questionnaire that must be mailed back to the courthouse before reporting for jury duty.
That differs from the current system where jurors in civil matters are sent questions and they turn them in when they arrive for jury duty. Criminal court jurors also are given questionnaires when they arrive for service.
Boudewyns said the change will allow attorneys to review jurors' answers before they arrive for duty.
"It will drastically reduce the amount of time they [jurors] have to sit and wait," he said.