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What you need to know about jury duty in Maryland with trials back in full swing

For the second time in her three years living in Baltimore, Andrea Skeith received a letter this summer that many Marylanders refer to as a rite of passage — a jury duty summons.

Now that jury trials have resumed in person after months on hold amid the coronavirus pandemic, Residents throughout the state are once more being called upon to carry out their civic responsibilities in court.

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“I understand it’s my duty as a citizen,” said Skeith, a Fell’s Point resident.

Throughout Maryland, potential jurors are being called to serve on a backlog of trials that had been paused because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Baltimore Circuit Court faced a backlog of over 2,000 criminal cases as of the end of June. By late last month, the court, which reviews case numbers on a monthly basis, had 1,929 civil cases with trial dates set, the majority of which need juries, according to Terri Charles, a spokesperson for the Maryland judiciary system.

Audrey Carrión, chief administrative judge for the Baltimore Circuit Court, said the court opened last fall for some jury trials, but a rise in COVID-19 cases forced the court to delay trials again.

Now, Carrión said she is elated to have jurors back in the courtroom.

“We need to make sure that we try these cases,” Carrión said. “It’s a sense of a little bit of … euphoria from our judges that, yes, we can finally sit back and do what we are charged to do, which is try cases in person.”

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More than a year after the coronavirus pandemic put a stop to Maryland jury trials, they have started again, with the courts facing a backlog of cases.
More than a year after the coronavirus pandemic put a stop to Maryland jury trials, they have started again, with the courts facing a backlog of cases. (Baltimore Sun staff)

In Baltimore County, Chief Administrative Judge Ruth Ann Jakubowski said that court is also addressing a backlog of cases. The county has picked an average of two juries a day and, as of Wednesday, held 13 criminal trials and 19 civil jury trials that went to a verdict.

While some people may see a summons as an inconvenience, Carrión said she is grateful for those who show up for jury duty.

For those who have been summoned for jury duty, here’s your guide to navigating the process and the COVID precautions in place.

How did I get selected for jury duty?

Potential jurors are selected randomly from a pool of adult voters, licensed drivers and residents of a given county or city. If you are older than 70, you can request to be exempt from jury duty.

Why does it feel like everyone is getting summoned now that trials have resumed?

If it feels like more people are getting summons for jury duty now that trials have resumed, that’s because the Fifth Judicial Circuit, made up of Anne Arundel, Carroll and Howard counties, has been sending out more summons than normal.

“We are summoning more jurors than we were prior to the pandemic to allow for a greater percentage of people who are excused from jury service or fail to appear but, in general, we are very pleased with juror attendance and appreciative of the dedication that local county residents have shown in reporting for jury duty.,” said Fifth Judicial Circuit Administrative Judge Fred Hecker in a statement.

Baltimore County had the same concern and summoned more people than normal when trials initially resumed out of fear that people wouldn’t appear for jury duty, although that hasn’t seemed to be an issue.

“I was really worried at the beginning that people wouldn’t show up,” Jakubowski said. “We have not had an issue with people showing up. I mean, people are actually eager to serve. Maybe people want to get out of the house.”

In Baltimore City however, Charles said the number of calls for jury duty in Baltimore City is not higher than before the pandemic.

In Harford County, Jury Commissioner Catherine Valdivia said the court is sending out summons for around 140 jurors a day, a number that Valdivia said is about average compared to pre-pandemic numbers.

Valdivia said the county is actually bringing in fewer jurors in person every day due to social distancing restrictions in its jury rooms, which can only hold about 30 potential jurors at a time.

But if you do keep getting summoned for jury duty on a near-yearly basis, take comfort in knowing that if you end up serving on a jury, it will likely be at least three years before you serve again.

What do I do when I get a summons?

That letter is not a typical piece of mail. It is, in fact, a notice of a legal obligation to appear in court. Do not ignore it. If you do, you could face up to $1,000 in fines and 60 days in jail.

When you get your summons, you should let your employer know the date you are supposed to appear and that, if you are selected to be on a jury, you may not be available for multiple days after the date on your summons. If it’s your first summons, it will come with a survey to determine if you are eligible to serve on a jury.

Your summons should have call-in information with directions for the day before your summons date, including your reporting number. Follow the directions to call in. You’ll learn whether your reporting number has been randomly selected from the jury pool.

If it has, report to the address on your summons, which may be a courthouse or another space such as the War Memorial Building in Baltimore City or, if you live in Baltimore County, the American Legion at 125 York Road in Towson, both of which are being used to help potential jurors socially distance. Harford County is also using some off-site locations for jury selection in larger trials.

What if I have a conflict with the date I am supposed to appear in court?

If you are a caregiver or cannot find child care for the date of your summons, Baltimore City courts will allow you to delay your jury duty to a day within 90 days of your originally scheduled date.

Anne Arundel, Howard and Harford counties also allow anyone to call and to postpone service one time, and you can request a postponement when you fill out your online juror questionnaire. If you need to postpone again, you have to provide a written reason to the county.

To ask to delay your service for any reason, contact the jury office in your jurisdiction.

What COVID precautions will be in place?

In Baltimore and Carroll counties, masks are optional for vaccinated jurors and court personnel but required for anyone who isn’t fully vaccinated. Baltimore City will require masks indoors beginning Monday, and Anne Arundel County now requires masks in all county buildings. In Harford County, all jurors are required to wear masks regardless of vaccination status, although masks are not required for everyone in the courthouse, according to Valdivia.

Temperature checks are conducted at the entrance to all courthouses. Courthouses in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard and Harford counties have also set up plexiglass dividers in courtrooms.

If you have been exposed to COVID, tested positive, or have symptoms, notify the jury office in your jurisdiction and do not report for jury duty.

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Baltimore City is also offering vaccines daily at the Elijah E. Cummings Courthouse through Sept. 10.

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Can I opt out of jury duty for COVID concerns?

Potential jurors concerned about serving due to COVID-19 should reach out to the jury commissioner’s office.

What about my job?

Your employer is legally required to allow you to perform jury duty, although they are not required to give you paid leave. Baltimore City, Howard, Baltimore, Carroll and Anne Arundel County courts pay $15 a day for anyone summoned or serving on a jury. In Harford County, jurors are paid $20 a day for their service.

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