As part of his probation, Deandre Somerville was also ordered to give a weekly, 10-minute presentation about the importance of jury duty.
Because he slept through jury duty, Deandre Somerville says his life “will never be the same again.”
On Aug. 20, the 21-year-old was picked as a juror for a civil automobile accident negligence case in West Palm Beach County, Florida. The next day, when he was supposed to return to court for the continuation of the trial at 9 a.m., he woke up and realized he had overslept.
“I woke up and I was like, ‘Oh shoot. It’s past the time,’” he told Fox6 News.
But instead of going to the courthouse anyway or calling the bailiff, he ran to his afternoon job.
“At work, I was looking on my phone thinking, ‘What’s the worst case scenario that could happen?’ I thought maybe I would get a fine or something like that,” Somerville told the Associated Press.
Somerville, who works at a local park as a recreations specialist for the city, lives with his grandparents. He helps care for his grandfather, who uses a walker and scooter to around, taking him shopping and to doctors appointments, his lawyer said.
Soon after he missed jury duty, police arrived at his home. His grandfather told him to “just go in and be honest,” the 21-year-old told the AP. And that’s what he did.
When he went before Circuit Civil Judge John Kastrenakes for his hearing, Somerville admitted that he had overslept and apologized.
“I overslept, for one, and I just didn’t know the seriousness of it, to be honest. This is my first time ever coming to court when you told me to come. Other than that, I never been in the courthouse,” Somerville told the judge, according to a court transcript.
The judge stated that the trial was delayed for 45 minutes “waiting for juror Somerville and his conduct impeded the due administration of justice.” Because of his “conduct,” Kastrenakes convicted him of direct criminal contempt and sentenced him to 10 days in prison, 12 months probation, 150 hours of community service, and ordered him to write a letter of apology. He also had to pay a $223 fine.
“They handcuffed me in the courtroom after that,” he told the AP, adding that he spent his 10-day sentence writing and praying.
The public defender representing Somerville appealed, arguing that the punishment was egregious given the circumstances, citing his ties to the community and lack of a criminal record.
On Friday, the judge reduced the sentence and accepted his apology. Somerville will now serve three months of probation and have to perform 30 hours of community service, court records show. As part of his probation, Somerville will also have to report once a week to the jury office to give a 10-minute talk about the importance of jury duty. Each presentation will count as three hours of community service.
According to reporters in the court room, the judge stressed that jury service is as important as serving in the military, telling Somerville that he took an oath to serve and “was actually the only African-American on the jury.”
“Look, I want you to become the governor of Florida, I want you to become whatever you want,” Kastrenakes told him.
Still, the judge had a stern warning for Somerville going forward.
“I’m dead serious about this. Dead serious. If you don’t do the community service hours as I’ve ordered, you face up to six months in jail, all right? This is just a taste of jail and it’s not that long,” Kastrenakes said, according to the court transcript. “You’ll do this 10 days and then you’ll come out and you’ll do everything on probation. I’m going to monitor you, make sure your probation is—you adhere to all the rules and conditions of probation.”
Legal experts said his handling of the missed jury duty case is unusual when it comes US courts.
“I haven’t ever heard of that,” Stephen Susman, a Texas attorney who established NYU Law’s Civil Jury Project, the nation’s only center that studies shrinking jury trials, told BuzzFeed News. “I assume there has to be something else going on because it’s very unusual.”
However, he said he “is in favor of” and “applaud[s]” the judge’s action “because it is our Constitutional duty.”
“This is not something I’ve been been preaching or urging judges to do,” Susman said. “I hope to encourage people to go to jury duty voluntarily because it’s great. They love it. When they go, they end up loving it.”
Kastrenakes’ actions have landed him in the spotlight on other occasions.
In 2010, the Florida Highway Patrol and Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office accused Kastrenakes of using his position to “influence and gain advantage” over an officer who had issued him traffic tickets, calling her “a liar” and threatening to dismiss any case she brought before his court.