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Legislation would prevent judges from sending people who miss jury duty to jail

A controversy over using jail as punishment for failing to show up arose last year in West Palm Beach County.  

State courts would be prohibited from sending people to jail for missing jury duty under newly filed legislation.

The bill is sponsored by state Rep. Al Jacquet, a Riviera Beach Democrat. His district includes part of Palm Beach County.

A controversy over using jail as punishment for failing to show up arose last year in West Palm Beach County.  

A young black man, 21-year-old Deandre Somerville, received his first-ever summons for jury duty over the summer. It was also his first time ever going to the courthouse and sitting in a courtroom. He described it as a little intimidating and a little boring. After a long day of sitting and waiting, Somerville said he was picked to serve as a juror on a civil case and was told to return the following day at 9 a.m.

But the next day he overslept and missed his ride to the courthouse. So he decided to go to work instead. 

Police showed up weeks after he missed jury duty. In September, Palm Beach County Judge John Kastrenakes found Somerville guilty of contempt of court and sentenced him to 10 days in jail, 150 hours of community service, a year of probation and a $223 fine. He also had to write an apology. 

The sentence came under scrutiny as national attention focused on Somerville’s attempt to appeal the ruling. Kastrenakes vacated the sentence last October after facing some backlash.

Jacquet’s bill (HB 1125) would prevent similar cases from arising in the future.

The measure would prohibit judges from imposing a jail term on someone who is summoned for jury duty and fails to show. Under current law, there’s no express limit on the possible sentence. The law only states that the absentee juror would be considered to be in contempt of court.

The measure wouldn’t let people such Somerville off the hook completely — they could still be subject to a fine. Jacquet’s bill does, however, cap the fee at $100.

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The Associated Press contributed to this post.

Written By

Sarah Mueller has extensive experience covering public policy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010. She began her career covering local government in Texas, Georgia and Colorado. She returned to school in 2016 to earn a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting. Since then, she’s worked in public radio covering state politics in Illinois, Florida and Delaware. If you'd like to contact her, send an email to sarah@floridapolitics.com.

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