News that a Bartow County resident, who is not a U.S. citizen, sat on the Grand Jury for nearly a month—helping to green-light criminal charges lodged against county residents and U.S. citizens in more than 130 cases before her citizenship status came to light—has made national headlines.
From her Cartersville office, Cherokee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Rosemary Greene, who began her freshman term in January after prosecuting cases in the same office for some time, said officials were "very lucky" they caught the problem before any of those cases progressed to jury trials, with "defective" indictments, and resulted in convictions, USA Today reports.
One likely factor: Following a 2011 change in Georgia law aimed at including a broader cross-section of people on the rolls of potential jurors, the state calls them up mainly from records of residents who hold driver's license, Greene said, reports The Daily Tribune News. Juror selection had previously been done on the local level and potential jurors were selected from among registered Bartow voters.
Citing less control over juror selection, Greene told the Tribune, "We are getting people who are not qualified to serve. (The state is) 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.
“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.”
To be a juror, a person must be a U.S. citizen with no felony convictions, who lives in the county in which he is to serve on a Grand or trial jury, among other requirements, according to 11 Alive.
But it's up to the courts to determine if potential jurors meet all the qualifications, and judges, attorneys and court clerks don't perform background checks or anything of the sort, according to the Tribune.
Instead, it's an honor system, according to Greene.
"That is the basis of our jury system," Greene told 11 Alive. "We have to rely on people coming forward and telling the truth, telling us if they're qualified. And it's a wonderful system. And it works 99 percent of the time....
"Our clerk and our judge went over all of the qualifications as they're supposed to do to make sure that we had 23 people who were qualified to serve as Grand Jurors. At no point in time did this individual give any indication that (she was) not a United States citizen."
The unqualified juror is a resident alien—the yet-to-be-identified woman is from a foreign country, but is a permenant resident of the U.S., where she holds a green card, but no citizenship, according to the Tribune.
She could be held criminally responsible and ordered to pay restitution if sheriff's authorities issue warrants alleging the woman lied to a Superior Court judge when asked if she was a U.S. citizen, and then, if she's found guilty of the felony charge.
The Bartow County Sheriff's Office, which, as the result of a tip, determined the woman's resident alien status and notified Greene's office, is investigating.
Here's what Patch wants to know, Cartersville and Bartow County:
Who should foot the $1,540 bill incurred in re-indicting more than 130 Superior Court criminal cases? Taxpayers? If not, someone else? Who? Voice your views in the comments below.