Bobby Powell, Al Jacquet say missing jury duty shouldn’t result in jail time

Vector illustration of a man lock up in prison
Deandre Somerville of Palm Beach served 10 days in jail for missing jury duty last year.

State Sen. Bobby Powell Jr. and state Rep. Al Jacquet have filed legislation that would bar judges from sentencing an individual to jail time for failing to appear for jury duty.

The measures (SB 1590 and HB 1125) come after 21-year-old Deandre Somerville, a West Palm Beach resident, was sentenced to 10 days in jail for missing jury duty back in August.

Somerville had no prior criminal record.

The case earned widespread attention. And Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes, who sentenced Somerville, eventually cleared his record after that sentence was served.

But Powell and Jacquet, both Democratic lawmakers, say Somerville should never have been imprisoned in the first place.

“Imprisonment for individuals who may have missed their alarm and overslept, had a conflicting appointment, or any other real life conflict should not have a permanent blemish on their record,” Powell said.

“Jury duty is a fundamental and essential process in our judicial system that should not be taken lightly, however, imposing imprisonment does far greater harm in creating or adding to an individual’s permanent criminal record when a monetary sanction is just as impactful.”

Their bills would explicitly bar that practice going forward.

“[T]he court may not impose any term of imprisonment as a sanction for contempt of court on a person who fails to attend in response to a summons without any sufficient excuse,” the legislation reads.

Jacquet also released a statement directly referencing Somerville’s case.

“We know that jury service is a shared American tradition. It teaches values of participation, equality, and deliberation. However, punishing our citizens with jail time for missing jury duty should not be a resolution. Recently, in my district, a young black man spent 10 days in jail for oversleeping through his first day of jury duty,” Jacquet said.

“We should not be teaching citizens a ‘lesson’ with jail time, for missing your first day of jury duty.”

The 2020 Legislative Session is scheduled to begin Tuesday, Jan. 14.

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected]


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