For most people, receiving a jury duty summons is as an inconvenience. But for Connecticut’s undocumented immigrants unfamiliar with the law — many of whom are Latinos – getting the call can instill the fear of deportation.
But that fear, along with many other misconceptions about jury duty, are mostly myths, according to officials at the Connecticut Jury Outreach Program. The program “targets community organizations and high schools in an effort to increase awareness and encourage participation in jury service” and “is a pro-active endeavor intended to ease any apprehensions about serving as a juror in Connecticut.”
“What we did is we’ve changed the summons,” Esther Harris, Jury Administrator at the Jury Outreach Program, said. “It used to ask for your alien registration number or your visa number and we realized that was causing a lot of fear.” The summons no longer requests that information and now only asks what country the resident is from, or if they are non-English speaker, what is their native language. Harris said the change has been in effect for several years.
Even if undocumented immigrants are summoned for jury duty, it is not their responsibility to serve, she said. Only U.S. citizens are allowed to serve jury duty.
Once a response is sent, the jury administration reports the information solely into its internal system for future reference. The information does not get passed on to any state or federal agencies.
Harris said, “We have no connection to the INS [Immigration and Naturalization Services]. We don’t have the resources to do any reporting to anyone.” She added that the jury administration sees a “fair amount” of responses saying the person summoned is not a U.S. citizen.
In order to serve, jurors must meet the following minimum qualifications: must be a resident of Connecticut; must be 18 years of age; cannot have a felony conviction in the past seven years; cannot have pending felonies; and, cannot be currently incarcerated.
Even though only U.S. citizens are allowed to serve, undocumented immigrants are often called because the list of people to summon is pooled from four different sources: the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Labor, the Department of Revenue Services, and the central voter registry of the Secretary of State.
If at any time a person has given information about themselves to any of those organizations, they are placed into the pool. Those summoned are randomly selected from that combined list.
The problem occurs when anyone, not just undocumenteds, ignore their summons altogether.
More attention is called to those who do not respond because their information is then passed on to the Attorney General’s office, and it is then up to them if they impose the $80 fine, she said. The fine is the maximum repercussion for ignoring a summons.
When asked if undocumented immigrants now having a path to receive Connecticut state drivers licences will increase amount they get called for duty, Harris said there was no way to know for sure.
Most importantly, Harris said, is that people should know about jury duty is that of those who serve, more than 80 percent will complete their duties in one day.
Every year, more than 550,000 people are randomly selected and 110,000 will be chosen to serve. Of those, 40,683 are considered no-show jurors.
“It seems like a lot but not in comparison to how many we summon,” Jammy Diaz-Davies, Assistant Administrator for the program, said.
(Photo by zzpza via Flickr)