Washington County Court screening jurors seeking to be excused behind closed doors
The process that Washington County Court is using to screen prospective jurors for the trial of Kevin Monahan is a little different than in other counties.
Monahan is charged with second-degree murder for allegedly shooting and killing Kaylin Gillis in his driveway last April.
The selection process is expected to take a couple days. A total of 500 prospective jurors were mailed questionnaires and 200 were summoned to the courtroom on Monday.
After the judge held a hearing on the motions, the prospective jurors who had an excuse or reason they wanted to be dismissed from service met privately with Judge Adam Michelini and the prosecutors and defense in groups of 20.
NewsChannel 13 spoke to local attorney Paul DerOhannesian, who said meeting with jurors behind closed doors is a little unusual.
“Most of the time, jury selection is an open process in open court unless there’s matters of a sensitive nature that involve a juror’s personal life, that may be done either at the bench or in the judge’s chambers,” he said.
For example, in sex offense cases it would not be unusual to have individual jury selection either at the judge’s bench or in chambers.
Washington County’s procedure contrasts with the process in other counties.
In Saratoga County, Commissioner of Jurors Susan Lant said that the judge has the discretion about how they want to process people when they come in. She brings about 100 people at a time.
Judge Jim Murphy conducts the process in open court with a line of people lining up and telling him why they can’t serve.
“They can always request to speak to the judge privately,” she said.
She said they don’t seem to get as many hardships if people have to stand there and state their reason in front of everybody.
She said there are pluses and minuses to doing it this way.
The disadvantage is people may listen to other people’s excuses, according to Lant.
“They’ll think that’s one way I can get out of it,” she said.
Lant says she tries to cast a wide net. About every other month, she sends out about 200 questionnaires. On those questionnaires have five questions – are you 18 and older, are you a citizen of the United States, are you a resident of Saratoga County, do you speak and understand the English language and have you been convicted of a felony? They cannot serve on a jury if they have.
Depending on how they answer those five questions, the questionnaires are sorted into one she calls a qualified pool of jurors upon which she can draw.
“From that, we always want to keep two, three months’ worth of jurors on hand,” she said.
Lant said for a murder trial she summoned over 600 people and she had about 300 qualified people.
Some counties are busier than others and would keep more on hand. Lant casts a wider net with some type of trials, she said. For example, some people would not want to sit on a sex abuse trial.
Then, some people call her ahead of time with a reason to be excused, such as being a caregiver or having a financial hardship and they would not be able to pay their bills by making the $40 per day.
There is no upper age limit on jury service in New York, according to Lant. She said that some people search online and find something about an age limit of 70, but that is not the case here.
“I’ve had a 95-year-old woman serve on a six-week trial and she loved it,” she said.