A jury is a group of 12 men and women selected to make decisions in court cases. There are basically two types of juries who serve in Habersham County: Grand and Traverse.
The duties of a Grand Jury are to inspect county offices and the prison in Alto and to indict felony cases based on the information presented to them by the District Attorney.
Once a Grand Jury has made the decision to indict a person, his/her case later goes before a Traverse Jury. After the case has been heard in court, the Traverse Jury then passes its judgment of "Guilty" or "Not Guilty" on the various charges. A Traverse Jury also hears civil cases. (Civil cases do not come before the Grand Jury.)
How are juries selected?
A Superior or State Court Judge sends a request to the Clerk of Court's office for a certain number of jurors for the upcoming term of court. There are two terms of court each year, one starting in January and the other in July. Each term of court lasts at least six months. Jury trials may occur at any time during that time period.
Jury members are then chosen from a list of previously compiled names called a "Jury List" or "Jury Box." Names in the "Jury Box" come from various sources, among them the voters' list and the phone directory. Citizens may also request to have their names included. The resulting list of potential jurors is then "balanced" by age, race, and gender. "Balancing" a jury list means making sure the jurors represent, as closely as possible, the population of the county as regards to age, race, and gender.
Once the names have been chosen, the office of the Clerk of Court prints and mails a summons to each juror. The summons lists the name of the Judge who is requesting the juror and the date and time the juror should appear.
If a juror wishes to be excused from serving, he/she must have a valid reason and must mail his/her request to be excused to the Judge whose name is on the summons. In order to be considered, the request to be excused should be received by the Judge before the service date (date to appear for jury duty). It is then up to the juror making the request to contact the office of the Clerk of Court to determine if his/her request has been approved or not.
However, if a juror has not been excused from serving, he/she must appear for jury duty in the courtroom on the date of service and time listed. If he/she does not show up, the Judge will have the Sheriff or the Clerk of Court make inquiries as to why not. Possible consequences for failure to report for jury duty are being held in contempt of court and being jailed.
Even when a juror reports for duty, he/she may not actually serve on a court case. The lawyers for the prosecution and the defense, as well as the judge, ask a series of questions of each juror. Depending on the responses to the questions, the juror may be selected to serve on a court case or may be excused.