Last week, Missouri Governor Mike Parson signed a bill into law that will allow certain people to automatically opt-out of jury duty at their choice. People who can now-opt out of the jury selection process are: healthcare providers, people that would endure extreme physical or financial hardship, nursing mothers, and those over 75 years old. Springfield CBS affiliate KOLR10 did a story on the new law featuring Woody.
Old Law: Opt-Out With Oversight
Anyone summoned for jury duty goes through a selection process. Potential jurors are questioned extensively by attorneys for each party and by the judge and they can at that time give reasons why they wouldn’t be able to serve on the jury.
Attorneys for the State and for the defendant each have 6 “peremptory” strikes, which means they can strike a potential juror for no reason at all. There are an unlimited number of “for cause” strikes, which are usually based on a hardship, such as age, work, financial hardship, etc. Criminal Defense Attorney Adam Woody says a new law allows some people to opt-out completely prior to having to appear for jury duty and go through the questioning process.
New Law: Opt-Out Without Oversight
“What this law does is essentially skips that step, and instead allows these people to be excused from jury service before even appearing, before even having to show up for service to go through the jury selection process,” Woody explains.
At age 72, Ruby McDaris has sat on a jury once, but her several times in the jury selection process opened her eyes to a lot of things.
“There was some things, ‘Oh I wouldn’t want to do that,’ but then I think, ‘That’s how the law works.’ So I saw a lot of insight for myself. I enjoyed it,” McDaris says.
McDaris can opt-out after she turns 75. Since the constitution provides anyone on trial a jury of his or her peers, Woody thinks that this could be an issue if many people are opting out.
“There are cases in which I would want a healthcare professional on the jury. There are cases which I may want an elderly person on the jury,” says Woody.
The change takes effect August 28.
This change could lead to interesting challenges by defendants who feel that their constitutional right to a jury trial by their peers has been impacted by allowing a large cross-section of the community to opt-out without any oversight. We look forward to monitoring how many potential jurors opt-out in Southwest Missouri once these changes are in effect. At some point, the Constitutionality of this new law is sure to be challenged.