Proposed bill exempts seniors from jury duty

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

The saying age has its privileges may find new meaning in New Mexico law.

A bill passed by the state Senate Tuesday gives senior citizens 70 and older an automatic pass on jury duty.

Introduced by Sen. Stuart Ingle, SB 112 gives citizens 70 and older a choice to be permanently exempted from jury service.

Ingle is state senator for Chaves, Curry, De Baca and Roosevelt Counties.

The bill passed the Senate 37-3 and is on its way to the House.

A person wishing to be exempt will be required to file an affidavit with the court requesting the exemption, according to the bill.

But those citizens who still wish to serve can and will not be removed from the jury pool.

The bill was born of concerns from elder residents who, “have difficulties with mobility or transportation issues that might limit their ability to get to court while others have hardships with bad weather and with the ability of caregivers who might not be able to assist them in getting to the courthouse,” a press release from Ingle’s office said.

A spokesperson with Ingle’s office said there are many seniors who are able and want to serve and whose wisdom and experience is appreciated in the jury box.

But for many others it can be a hardship.

Pleasant Hill resident Jane Sealey said at 72, she has served on jury duty numerous times in her adult life.

“I’ve always enjoyed serving,” she said.

Sealey said she would probably serve again if called, though she admitted she is at a point in life where she and her husband like to travel. She also said the courts have been good about working with scheduling conflicts she has had in the past.

So even though she would qualify for the exemption under the proposed law, Sealey is not sure she would opt for it, just yet.

But Sealey said she can certainly understand why some senior citizens might have health or life conditions that would make jury duty uncomfortable if not impossible.

“I have a few friends in their 80s and past and they wouldn’t want to sit in a jury box all day,” she said.

“For me, I’m still able to do it. Not (always) particularly wanting to, but able to. Every time they’ve called I’ve served.”