ALBANY, Ga. — As officials in one Georgia county continue to clean up the legal mess caused when a non-U.S. citizen somehow ended up on a grand jury and issued indictments on more than 100 cases, local authorities say they believe enough safe guards are in place to thwart most from being able to sit on grand or trial juries.
For most of the April term of the Bartow County grand jury, a resident and legal alien heard testimony and issued indictments against U.S. Citizens. It wasn't until a tip to the sheriff's office alerted officials that the juror was kicked off and investigation launched. Inevitably, Bartow District Attorney Rosemary Greene was forced to re-indict 130 cases, according to a recent report by Atlanta T.V. station 11Alive.
Locally, Dougherty County Clerk of Court Evonne Mull concedes that the way the state now mandates jury pools to be developed is flawed, but says that it would be difficult to keep people from lying.
"People lie; and they'll lie right in the face of a judge," Mull said. "We haven't had any issues with non-citizens but we've had a few times when felons will make it into the pool and be weeded out during voir dire (jury questioning)."
So how did a non-resident get into the jury pool in the first place?
Mull says that the old days of using registered voters as the sole source of supplying jury pools has gone away, leading instead to a system that uses both voter registration roles and information from state databases of driver information.
"We send out the questionnaires to registered voters and anyone over 18 that drives that hasn't already been tossed off the state's list," Mull said.
Those questionnaires require residents of Dougherty County to answer questions relating to a variety of things such as age, nationality, residency and felon status.
Once returned, a six-person jury panel then attempts to filter out those who are either felons, non-citizens or others who have a legally-permissable reason to be out of jury duty such as their age — over 70 — or infirmity.
The questionnaires that pass the scrutiny of the jury commission are then uploaded into a statewide computer database where they're compared and reconciled with existing information in the database, Mull said.
That database then generates the local jury pool for both trials and grand jury terms. At least three different points throughout the entire process — from the point where the questionnaires are returned to the point a person is assigned to a case — require the prospective juror to legally attest to their citizenship.
"The current system is better than we thought it would be," Mull said. "It's not better than the old one, but I think there are enough safeguards to keep the folks out who shouldn't be there."