GREENSBORO — If you flip through your mail and find that you are one of the 5,365 people picked to serve on a jury in August, think twice before ignoring it.
"We can't function without jurors," said Craig Turner, Guilford County's trial court coordinator. "The public can't be served if we can't administer courts the way it was supposed to run."
During jury selections, moans and groans are audible. Some curse under their breath. Others offer reasons why they shouldn't be picked.
And then there are those who don’t show up.
Last year, that was 5,516 of the 48,987 people summoned in Guilford County.
They could’ve gotten a $50 fine and jail time.
But that rarely happens. And that's partly why people continue to not show.
Jury duty is a staple of our democracy. It's a civic duty. It’s also something that many of us would love to avoid.
And in Guilford County and across the country, many have been doing just that.
So courts have gotten inventive.
New York state has tried eliminating occupational exemptions to jury service so doctors and lawyers can’t use work as an excuse.
Other states have tried ad campaigns and raising the amount paid for serving.
In Guilford County, pleas from the courts have largely gone unheeded.
According to court data, holidays and the start of the school year often affect attendance. Maybe that's why more people skipped their civic responsibility in August 2016 — 681 — than any other month that year. February had the second highest number of delinquencies — Valentine's Day, perhaps? — with 624.
“We can have five different courts operating in Superior Court at one time,” Turner said. “If all of them were set for trial, the 200 people who were summoned for that day can very easily be gobbled up by the demand.”
Since jury summons for August were just mailed, you may be getting one any day now.
If so, here's how you were selected.
Names are chosen by a computer at random.
Those names are recreated every two years by a three-person commission using voter and drivers license registration lists.
The pay begins at $12, then increases to $20 (Information has been corrected to fix an error. See correction at the end of the story. 2:07 p.m. June 26, 2017) for the second through fifth day and $40 every day after that.
You have to be at least 18 years old, understand English and not served on a jury in the past two years.
You have to be physically and mentally competent.
You can’t be a convicted felon.
If you meet those requirements, then you'll likely be serving on a jury at some point in your life here. That's the bad news.
Here's the good: Turner said most people picked for jury duty in Guilford County only serve one day.
In 2016, 89 percent of residents called didn’t have to serve at all.
Still, for many it's a risk they don’t want to take.
After witnessing multiple trials in January that were impacted by not having enough jurors, Superior Court Judge Lindsay Davis Jr. wrote a letter urging residents to answer their summons.
"You may be tempted simply to ignore the summons and many people do — so many, sometimes, that not enough jurors are available to conduct a trial," Davis wrote.
Since 2009, an average of 11 percent of those summoned in Guilford County don't appear.
"We have had times where not enough jurors responded," Davis said. "Sometimes that has been because we didn't send out enough summons, but other times it's because there were not enough jurors who answered their summons."
The lack of response can delay cases and forces districts to mail additional summons, which can be costly.
Those problems became evident during a first-degree murder trial in January.
Superior Court Judge Bradford Long was trying to seat a jury with only one-third of the summoned jurors at the courthouse. To make matters worse, three other trials were taking place simultaneously and dipping into that pool of people.
It took over two days to find a jury of 12 people and two alternates.
Some in the jury pool told the judge they wanted to be excused because they felt uncomfortable deciding whether a man should spend the rest of his life in jail.
The judge also heard from people who had booked trips to Disney World, had child care needs or important medical appointments and one man said he didn't like where jurors had to park.
"Most folks call us in advance and say they have a conflict for that date," Turner said. "We try to accommodate them for a series of dates based on their exact situations."
The trial was expected to conclude within a week but had to stretch into a second.
Long ran into another problem when a juror was too embarrassed to bring a medical problem to his attention and decided not to come to court. So he ordered a deputy to get her.
Instead, she arrived on her own and addressed her concerns with the judge.
"If a person has a problem, get that out of the way at the very beginning," Turner said. "Once that screening process started there is really no excuse that will pass muster."
State law gives Long and other judges the ability to hold someone in contempt of court, which means automatic jail time. How long they remain incarcerated is at the judge's discretion.
In Guilford County, Turner said both fines and jail time are rare depending on the judge.
"Generally, the jury pool is issued a straight summons and if they miss their day, we normally don't issue a citation or summons unless the presiding judge deems it necessary," Turner said.
Mark Martin, chief justice of the state Supreme Court, recently proclaimed July as North Carolina's inaugural Jury Appreciation Month.
"Jury service is one of the cornerstones of our democracy," said Charles Keller, spokesman for the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts. "We have been settling legal disputes using trial by jury for over 200 years. Without jurors, the court could not carry out its important work, so it is extremely important that North Carolinians respond to the jury summons if they receive one.”
Correction: A juror is paid $20 per day for second through fifth day. The amount was misstated in this story when it first published at 9 p.m. on June 24, 2017.