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Jury Duty

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster reported for jury duty this past Monday, declining a chance to be excused because of his age and position.  The State reported that McMaster, 73, was simply known as Juror 312 during the screening process where potential jurors answered questions.  “It’s your duty to serve on the jury, just like the judge said,” the governor told the newspaper, adding that the nation’s legal system could not work without jurors.  Jurors were asked to introduce themselves by giving their name, occupation and occupation of their spouse. When McMaster’s number, 312, was called, he stood and said, “Henry McMaster, an attorney currently serving as governor. My wife, Peggy, is a property manager.”  While he is part of the pool for several possible trials that could take place this week, it doesn’t mean that McMaster will eventually be picked for a jury.  People age 65 or older don’t have to serve on a South Carolina jury if they don’t want to, but McMaster said he was willing to serve.

In South Carolina a prospective juror must:

  • be a United States citizen
  • be at least 18 years of age
  • reside primarily in South Carolina for the past year
  • be a resident of the summoning county
  • be able to read, write, speak and understand the English language
  • have no pending charges punishable by imprisonment for more than one 1 year
  • have no conviction for felony punishable by more than 1 year imprisonment without having had civil rights restored
  • not be physical or mental infirm and as a result incapable of satisfactory jury service
Further, a juror who has served at least once can be excused from further service for a period of 3 years from the date of discharge from previous service. No person shall serve as a juror more than once every calendar year.

The Right to JuryThe right to a jury trial is one of the most important rights that a criminal defendant has in the United States. Because a jury trial can differ vastly from a trial where a judge presides over the case, having the option for a jury trial can be a real advantage for a defendant. This fundamental right is guaranteed by two separate provisions of the U.S. Constitution: Article III, section 2 and the Sixth Amendment.

Specifically, Article III, section 2 states, “The trial for all crimes shall be by jury and such trial shall be held in the state where the said crimes have been committed.” The Sixth Amendment, (which is an extension of the Bill of Rights that would be guaranteed by the Constitution) provides the following: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.”

However, no Jury trial can occur without Citizens being willing to serve.  Many view the call for Jury Duty as a burden, but imagine not having the ability to have a Jury.  Only about 50 countries in the World use juries to determine guilt.  That may sound like a lot, but there are 195 countries in the World, therefore it is only about 25%.   Imagine having your life rest in the hands of one person who is obliged to the government and not your community.  Being on a jury is a privilege that this country affords us and it is nice to see the Governor appreciate that privilege.  Not only is it a privilege, it is also our legal duty.

There are a number of ways to be legally excused from jury duty in South Carolina, failing to appear when summoned for jury selection or jury duty without an excuse is illegal, and can result in legal repercussions.  A prospective juror in any court who fails to appear without sufficient excuse may be imposed by the summoning court to pay a civil penalty of up to $100.  Further, Employers in South Carolina are also forbidden from penalizing employees who miss work for jury duty.

Many of us take for granted the safeguards, privileges, and rights we have here in the United States of America.  But looking from a global perspective, it is no wonder why so many flea to the United States and not from the United States.

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