When the grand jury was impaneled in April, one member maintains a resident alien citizenship status, which fails the first criteria for jurors — that they be United States citizens.
A resident alien is someone from a foreign country who is a permanent citizen of the country where they reside without having citizenship in that country. In the U.S., a resident alien is someone who has a green card that has not been rescinded or determined to be abandoned, according to the Internal Revenue Service. Resident aliens also are those who have been physically present in the U.S. for 31 days during the current year and 183 days during the three-year period that includes the current year and the two years immediately before.
To serve on a grand jury in the state of Georgia, a person must be 18 or older and not incompetent because of mental illness or mental retardation, a U.S. citizen and resident of the county for at least six months preceding the time of service, who are the “most experienced, upright, and intelligent persons,” according to the Official Code of Georgia Annotated 15-12-60. Those who have held elected office in state or local government in the two years preceding the time of service and those who are convicted felons who have not been pardoned are deemed incompetent to serve as grand jurors, according to state law.
Bartow County Clerk of Superior Court Melba Scoggins said her office was notified the panel needed to reconvene by letter.
“I have an order to reconvene the grand jury. All I got was a letter from the foreman saying, ‘Bring the grand jury back in,’” she said.
The grand jury gathered Monday to hear again evidence, most of which had been heard during the April term. The juror at issue was not present.
“After we finished our initial service, we had some information that came in that one of the grand jurors was not a United States citizen. ... This came to the attention of law enforcement, which was then directed to my office,” District Attorney Rosemary Greene said Tuesday at the conclusion of the grand jury’s session. “The standard procedure in qualifying a jury is, Mrs. Scoggins goes over some initial questions with those [called to serve], and once the grand jurors come into the courtroom, the judge then inquires to make sure they are qualified to serve.
“The first question that is asked is, ‘Are you a U.S. citizen? Are you over 18 years of age? Are you a resident of Bartow County?’ This individual did not indicate that she was not a U.S. citizen, so she was sworn. She served on the grand jury and once we realized she was not qualified, we had to step back and correct this.”
The juror’s name and country of origin were not released Tuesday.
When asked if potential grand jurors are subjected to background checks or criminal history reports, Greene said the court system does not run either.
Pushed further on whether any agency conducts those checks, Greene said, “With citizenship status, we rely on what these people are saying. When jurors come in, we have to rely on their correct answers, and that is what the whole system is based on.”
For the DA, part of the issue stems from a change in state law concerning how names are selected for duty.
“A lot of this is happening across the state of Georgia. We have seen more issues as prosecutors with convicted felons who are being called to serve. That’s becoming a major issue,” she said. “We have a new jury reform composition act that passed in the state of Georgia in regards to how we are selecting grand jurors and trial jurors. It’s not done locally within the county anymore; it’s now being done in Atlanta.
“So the names, which come mainly from the Department of Motor Vehicles — if you have a driver’s license, you go into the hopper to be selected, so we don’t have as much control over what is coming out. We are getting people who are not qualified to serve. They’re serving people who are actually deceased, don’t live in the county, things of that nature. It is something that we are having to deal with.”
Signed into law on May 3, 2011, the Jury Composition Reform Act created a statewide juror source list to be prepared by the Council of Superior Court Clerks and removed former provisions for balancing the jury box.
When asked if the state would have applied any type of background filter prior to selecting possible jurors, Greene said there would have been no such measure.
“Now, Mrs. Scoggins has initiated going over this criteria, there again, because we are getting a different group of jurors in that don’t have a whole lot of experience in the jury process to educate them ...,” she said.
Scoggins covered the qualifying questions with the April term of the grand jury, which is impaneled until the next term is qualified the first week in August, and according to Greene, Judge David Smith again questioned the group of jurors.
“There was no indication [the juror] was not qualified to serve,” she said.
“This was a cost and expense to the taxpayers,” Greene added. “My office got a transcript of the instructions that Judge David Smith gave to them, which qualified her to serve, as well as all the paperwork, and have turned it over to the sheriff’s office if they wish to initiate an investigation.”
Should the Bartow County Sheriff’s Office determine wrongdoing, the woman could face restitution, including the $1,540 cost of reconvening the grand jury for those two days this week. The 22 grand jurors were paid $35 per day.
The Daily Tribune News, as the legal organ of the county, printed earlier this month both the no bills and true bills returned by the current term of the grand jury. A revised list of both — the grand jury returned 131 true bills, or indictments, and six no bills on Tuesday — will be printed when it becomes available later this week.
Greene said she was unsure of any changes in the results, as cases presented this week changed due to officer availability and the addition of cases. Judge Carey Nelson on Tuesday also signed three bondable bench warrants on special presentments from the grand jury.