FRONT ROYAL – More than a dozen people failed to show up for jury duty last week, putting a defendant’s trial at risk.
Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr. spoke Monday to the potential jurors who did not appear in Warren County Circuit Court for Michael Lee Lovelace’s Nov. 26 jury trial.
Lovelace stood charged with felony eluding law enforcement, a second offense of driving on a revoked license and failing to report a traffic crash that resulted in damage. The trial lasted into the following morning with the jury finding Lovelace guilty of eluding and driving on a revoked license.
The jury did not recommend Lovelace serve time in jail but did suggest he pay fines totaling $4,000. The court dismissed the charge of failing to report a crash.
But the court almost could not hold the trial because of the 14 jurors who did not show, Athey said. The court needs at least 40 potential jurors to put together a panel of 12 plus an alternate, the judge explained. The defense and prosecution can each strike four people from those potential jurors who appear for duty, leaving 32 left to select for the panel. The absence of 14 people left sides with 26 potential jurors before their strikes.
The judge last week issued show-cause orders calling for each of the potential jurors who did not appear on the day of the trial to come to court Monday and provide reasons for their absence. The judge could have found any one or all of the potential jurors in contempt of court. However, Athey said none of them would be held in contempt of court.
People who failed to appear for jury duty gave reasons ranging from forgetting about the date to illness. A couple of people said they suffered from spinal pain. One woman said she could not appear because she is the sole provider of care for a child. One potential juror suffered injuries in a motor vehicle crash the day before trial.
Athey told one man who is 75 years old that the state allows an exemption for anyone 70 and older from serving on a jury. The man said he wanted to serve and did not intend to miss jury duty. The state also provides an exemption for people who are the sole caregiver for a child and, in these instances, the court allows a potential juror to choose other dates they can serve, Athey explained.