Summit County jurors blame mistrial on clerical error
February 2, 2018
A felony prosecution case in Summit County's 3rd District Court was declared a mistrial in December after 36 potential jurors failed to show up to court. The Summit County Attorney's Office is now admitting it may have been due to an administrative error.
All of the jurors received a court order to appear in 3rd District Court on Thursday to explain their absence or face being held in contempt of court after failing to show up for the Dec. 12 trial. The prosecution case had been transferred from Uintah County due to overwhelming pre-trial publicity. It is now being scheduled for a new trial in Salt Lake County.
Christy Froehlich, who lives in Trailside, was one of the 36 jurors who failed to show up in December and received a subpoena. Froehlich admits she did not show up for jury duty, but said she called the court the day before the trial and a recording told her it was canceled.
"I was told I was free and clear so I did not show up," she said. "The following Monday, I had a call from the (Summit County) Sheriff's Office and telling me there is a subpoena as a defendant. I was like, 'I don't even have a speeding ticket.' I have served twice in Maryland and would never evade jury duty. I was mortified."
Froehlich was not alone in her experience. Another man who attended the hearing on Thursday claimed to have received the same recording, she said. Additionally, about 15 people said they did not receive a juror summons card in the packet they were mailed from district court.
County Attorney Margaret Olson said that, based on the comments from jurors on Thursday, "one may reasonably conclude that some of this was an administrative error."
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"Some of the cards weren't there," she said. "Maybe the people didn't see them. This was not in bad faith. A lot of people thought they had done what they were supposed to do. Some were confused. Many presented with real-life human excuses, including, 'I messed up. Can I still stay on in the jury pool?'"
Of the 36 potential jurors subpoenaed, 31 attended court on Thursday, Olson said. One of the jurors was not a U.S. citizen and was excused from serving. Two people no longer lived in Summit County, while several more presented doctor's notes or confidential information that was accepted by the judge excusing their absence. Two of the jurors who failed to show up on Thursday had $500 bench warrants issued for their arrests.
No one was formally held in contempt, which would constitute up to a $1,000 fine and 30 days in jail. However, 10 people were ordered to perform eight hours of community service within 30 days, Olson said. Sixteen people will remain in the jury pool.
"Maybe some were negligent, but I saw a group of people who felt poorly about being part of a mistrial and were sorry it had happened," she said. "I think we just use this as a positive to raise community awareness and remind people how consequential their participation really is."
Olson emphasized how jury duty is the only time someone will be drafted into service outside of a military draft. She said it is an expectation of citizens to provide the service to their community.
"You never know when you or a loved one may be criminally accused or wrongfully criminally accused and you rely on having a jury of your peers to obtain justice," she said.
Froehlich was eventually excused from her service on Thursday because of the recording she had heard. She said she was never in fear of going to jail because she was confident that she had followed the court's instructions. She added, however, "That's not to say I wasn't worried."
"I knew I was going to be cleared," she said. "But, it's very frustrating at how it was handled. The court had never came out and said, 'We have a problem here and we have to fix this.' I would like Summit County to make a statement that this was due to a clerical error and take this off of the people that have been embroiled in this. I would feel so much better if they did."