York County criminal trials resume after glitch

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comFebruary 19, 2013 

— Criminal trials delayed after a statewide data-entry error last month that limited the number of jurors entered into York County’s jury pool are back in session.

Court officials have worked to assemble new jurors, and a new grand jury will hear more than 360 indictments.

An armed robbery trial was stopped in its tracks on Jan. 30 when court employees realized the county’s jury pool included only a list of registered voters, but not people who have a driver’s license or other state identification but are not registered to vote.

Jury pools are formed from lists of people who are registered to vote, or who have a driver’s license or another state-issued identification. Once the pool is generated, the state Court Administration uses a software program to download the names of prospective jurors to the local Clerk of Court office.

The error was “a glitch in how it was loaded into our system,” said York County Clerk of Court David Hamilton.

Court officials canceled jury trials scheduled for last week. Instead, judges agreed to hear guilty pleas, motions and other non-jury hearings throughout the week, Hamilton said.

Trials were rescheduled for this week and some will resume next week.

“We kept our judges busy,” he said.

Two circuit judges typically preside over criminal cases during weeklong court terms twice a month, said 16th Circuit Court Solicitor Kevin Brackett. Cases won’t be heard until another court term resumes the following week.

This week, 16th Circuit Court Judges John Hayes III and Lee Alford, as well as Circuit Court Judge Michael Nettles, are hearing civil and criminal cases, Hamilton said.

The day after employees discovered the mistake, they drafted and mailed at least 750 letters to three different jury pools, notifying people that they didn’t have to report to jury duty, Hamilton said. Officials also sent out about 500 summonses to new jury pools, costing taxpayers at least $1,000 court officials used for postage, printing and paper.

Defendants indicted in January and scheduled to go to trial were given the opportunity to plead guilty, Hamilton said.

“(The error) did not stop justice,” he said.

State Court Administration also provided prosecutors with a new list of names to pick from to assemble on Tuesday an 18-member grand jury responsible for rehearing indictments issued by the former grand jury in January.

Grand juries hear evidence and decide if there’s probable cause to issue criminal indictments against defendants accused of a crime. If the jury decides to indict, jurors vote to return a true bill, enabling prosecutors to begin trial proceedings.

The former grand jury in January indicted 361 defendants, said Deputy 16th Circuit Court Solicitor Willy Thompson. Thompson said members of the new grand jury won’t have to hear all those indictments because some defendants pleaded guilty, opting not to go to trial.

They will be presented with 483 indictments on schedule for February. Some indictments will be lumped into the “March amount” so February jurors aren’t overwhelmed, Thompson said.

Typically, the grand jury hears between 300 to 370 indictments, Thompson said.

“Usually, we have to wrap up in a day,” he said. But the court glitch presents “an unusual situation” that might prompt officials to reassemble the grand jury on Friday.

The goal, he said, is to finish on Thursday.

None of the indictments the grand jury will look at this week include charges for murder, Thompson said, but they’ll be presented with accusations of “armed robbery, rape and things of that nature.”

Jonathan McFadden •  803-329-4082

The Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service