The state Senate passed a bill Wednesday that allows county courts to consider factors such as juror drive time when summoning residents to jury duty.
The bill, which concentrates on modernizing the juror selection process, was sent to Gov. Janet Napolitano Wednesday, who’ll act on it no later than Tuesday, said spokeswoman Jeanine L’Ecuyer.
The bill doesn’t promise residents they’ll only be called to serve jury duty at their nearest court. However, it gives each county court the option to rewrite its jury selection process to take into account alternative factors, such as a potential juror’s distance from the summoning court. The county would then have to submit its plan to the state Supreme Court for approval.
“We have now in Mesa a regional courthouse, so for someone who lives in Mesa, it doesn’t make sense for them to have to travel to Phoenix,” said Sen. Chuck Gray, R-Mesa, who sponsored the bill with Sen. Linda Gray, R-Glendale.
Regardless of the potential changes, most jurors will still find themselves commuting to downtown Phoenix because the majority of cases requiring jury trials in Maricopa County are tried at the Superior Court facilities there.
The Northwest Regional Court Center in Surprise, for example, primarily handles family court and probate cases. Jurors would be summoned there only for some civil jury trials, said Bob James, the county’s director of jury management when the bill was introduced.
Gray called any misgivings that drive time might decrease jury diversity a red herring.
He said regardless of the changes to the statutes, defendants still would face a jury of their peers.
Gray also dismissed questions about a potential increased risk of drawing a jury pool tainted by local rumors and news.
“The way we get news these days, you’re not going to just see things that happen in your immediate area,” he said, noting the variety of ways his constituents get their news.
The bill also modifies existing jury-related statutes to help streamline the selection process by allowing jury commissioners to use computers and other technologies.