Law makes it easier for seniors to pass on jury duty

Rick Nathanson, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.
·3 min read

Apr. 8—ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Seniors age 75 and older who wish to excuse themselves from jury duty — permanently, if they so desire — will no longer be required to submit a sworn and notarized affidavit.

Those who have received a jury summons can fill out and return a form, which can be obtained in person at the courts or downloaded online from the website that appears on the summons. As in the past, they will not be required to state a reason for requesting exclusion.

The only requirements are that they first receive that summons, and they be 75 years old, which is easy enough for the courts to verify through a jury management database that is updated twice annually and is based on income tax, voter registration and driving records, said Artie Pepin, director of the New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts.

The legislation, signed into law earlier this week, applies to all state courts in New Mexico and was sponsored by Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, and Sen. Elizabeth Stefanics, D-Cerrillos.

The former process was particularly difficult for many seniors living in rural portions of New Mexico. They often had to travel long distances to a courthouse to get the affidavit form to request jury duty exemption, as well as travel to find a notary, he said. The task was made even more challenging because some seniors don't drive, don't own a vehicle, and don't have a computer or internet access.

The affidavit requirement also added work for the courts because of the time necessary to process the paperwork, Pepin said.

"New Mexico courts sought the change in law to offer more convenience for our senior citizens and allow the courts to operate more efficiently," state Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Vigil said in a statement. "We anticipate this will be useful especially for those senior citizens who are hesitant about jury service during the COVID-19 pandemic."

In 2019, the last full pre-COVID year, many age-qualifying seniors requested, and received, jury service exemptions. For example, in the 2nd Judicial District, Bernalillo County, 922 requests were granted; 13th Judicial District, Sandoval, Valencia and Cibola counties, 864 exemptions; 1st Judicial District, Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Los Alamos counties, 854 exemptions; and 3rd Judicial District, Doña Ana County, 1,030 exemptions.

Of course, seniors who want to serve on a jury are always welcome to respond to a jury summons and show up for the selection process, Pepin said.

And they do.

"It's not rare that we have somebody in that age range who serves on a jury. They're part of the cross section of the community," Pepin said, noting that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are about 153,000 New Mexico residents age 75 or older.

This older population, he said, is reliable and they "show up in response to a jury summons, they usually don't have to go to work so they can arrange their schedule to serve on a jury, and they tend to be people who feel like this is an important thing to do."