Can’t Buy Your Way Out of Jury Duty

TROY, Mo. (CN) – A Lincoln County Court policy that let people pay their way out of jury duty may have tainted a drug case and could affect 20 other cases. The policy let citizens avoid jury duty by paying $50 and doing 6 hours of community service. But a state appeals court this week overturned a man’s 2007 drug conviction because the jury policy violated state law.

      “We find no statutory or judicial authority suggesting that an individual may be permitted to choose a nonattendance penalty up-front rather than face potential jury service,” Judge Kurt S. Odenwald wrote for the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals.
     Odenwald found the policy “a fundamental and systemic failure to comply with the statutory jury selection requirements.”
     In the underlying case, Donald W. Preston, 44, was sentenced in August 2007 to 15 years in prison for running a methamphetamine lab out of his vehicle.
     At trial, seven potential jurors in a pool of hundreds chose to pay $50 and do community service instead of serving on the jury.
     Preston’s attorney argued “that this opt-out practice does not substantially comply with Missouri’s jury selection statutes.”
     Lincoln County Presiding Judge Dan Dildine adopted the program in March 2006 to alleviate the hardship for some citizens in serving on jury duty.
     The program was suspended in 2008 after a public defender questioned the program during jury selection in a murder trial.

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