Jury Duty That Does Not Serve Us
By Rebecca A. Seawright, Assembly Member
In the last Education Update, I wrote about the importance of educational opportunities for all of our constituents, of all ages. I especially wanted to bring light to the audit courses that our seniors can take without paying the tuition charged to credit seeking students at a number of colleges and universities within our reach. As a Member of the New York State Assembly representing the Upper East Side, Yorkville, and Roosevelt Island, and a voice for 23, 000 seniors that live in my district, I introduced a bill in the Assembly that would allow persons to opt-out of state jury service based solely on age without the burden of traveling to the court house to make the application similar to the federal court system. Why is this so important? Currently, the federal court system allows individuals to opt out of serving as a juror at age 70 without a showing of undue hardship or extreme inconvenience by the applicant. Many seniors who are not disabled still have difficulty traveling to court houses in order to make the application for excusal. This is why I introduced the bill that would extend at a state level the same opt out available to individuals 70 years of age and older selected for federal jury service.
Currently in New York, more than 600,000 people serve jury duty each year. As Americans, it is our civic duty and responsibility to give contribution to our democracy and the judicial system. Serving jury duty reflects the basic principles of our Constitution and gives people a significant role in administering justice. As New Yorkers living in a progressive state that has taken a lead on the most controversial issues in our nation, we failed to prevent imposing a burden on a vulnerable population - our senior citizens - while exercising our democracy. New York excuses jurors who provide a note from a doctor stating that their disability prevents them from serving jury duty, but this imposes a daunting and sometimes expensive burden on seniors and does not apply to many for whom jury service is possible but challenging. After hearing from my constituents who are not disabled but for whom travel is difficult, I knew that something must be done to rectify the way our state administers justice.
This legislation will be introduced 20 years after 27 previous exemptions and disqualifications for jury duty in New York State were repealed. The majority of the previous exemptions and disqualifications applied largely to doctors and lawyers; such white collar exceptions will not be included in my bill. It would simplify the process of opting out, without preventing senior citizens who are able to serve jury duty to do so if they choose to.#