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Florida Senate backs revision of juror sanctions

File photo
File photo

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Senate on Tuesday voted to limit the punishment a court can impose on a person who misses jury duty.

Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach, said the bill (SB 1590) is in response to a Palm Beach County case in which a juror was sentenced to 10 days in jail, a year on probation, 150 hours of community service and a $233 fine.

According to a Senate staff analysis of the bill, 21-year-old Deandre Somerville failed to show up for jury duty after he “overslept.” He did not call the court with an explanation and his absence resulted in a 45-minute delay in court proceedings that day, the bill analysis states.

Under current state law, a juror who misses jury duty must pay a fine that does not exceed $100 and may be held in contempt of court. State law, however, does not specify or limit the sanctions a court may impose for contempt of court. The Senate bill would allow a court to impose sanctions on jurors who fail to show up for jury duty. The punishment could include a fine of up to $1,000, up to three days in jail and an order to perform community service. The bill would not allow a judge to impose a prison sentence on a person who is found in contempt of court for missing jury duty, unless the offender is “able to obtain legal representation.”

In a prepared statement Tuesday, Powell said he is “extremely proud” of the legislation and “the bipartisan effort” to get it passed.

"I applaud the Florida Senate for its unanimous endorsement, and the message it sent today about delivering fair justice,” he said.

It is unknown whether the House will consider the proposal. A similar bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Al Jacquet, D-Riviera Beach, was never heard by a committee.