A 21-year-old Florida man spent 10 days behind bars and now has a criminal record after he accidentally slept in and missed serving on a jury.
Deandre Somerville of West Palm Beach was sworn in as a juror on a civil case in August but accidentally overslept one of the days of the trial.
"I woke up and I was like, 'Oh shoot, it's past the time,'" Somerville told WPTV in West Palm Beach.
He didn’t call the courthouse to report that he had missed his duty.
"'What’s the worst case scenario that could happen?’" he recalled thinking at the time in an interview with the Associated Press. “I thought maybe I would get a fine or something like that.”
Days later, he was invited back to the courthouse with a subpoena. This time, instead of being a juror, he was being treated as a defendant.
The young man sought out the advice of his grandparents, with whom he lives, before going back to court.
"I talked to my grandad for a while and he said the best thing you can always do is honesty, so I went for the hearing," Somerville told WPTV.
He added that his grandmother advised him to dress up but Somerville decided he’d rather wear his work clothes to make a good impression.
“I said, 'Nah, I'm going to wear my work clothes cause I felt like at least he [the judge] can see that I'm doing something, cause a lot of times people get stereotyped 'Oh he's just another black boy out here doing something he's not supposed to be doing,'" Somerville said.
Somerville works at an after school program at the West Palm Beach City Parks Department but he has aspirations of becoming a firefighter.
For the hearing, he took his grandfather’s advice and apologized. He was also honest.
"I said, 'Sir, honestly I overslept and I didn't understand the seriousness of this,” Somerville told the judge, according to his recollection.
However, despite the fact that Somerville had no criminal or arrest history, the judge convicted him of a misdemeanor and sentenced the young man to 10 days of jail. In addition to that, Somerville was sentenced to a year of probation and 150 hours of community service, and will have to write an apology letter and pay $233 in fees.
While behind bars, Somerville said all he could think about was his grandfather, whom Somerville took to therapy appointments. Tears ran down Somerville’s face as he spoke to WPTV for a story that ran last week.
“Like he depends on me, so it's hard for him," Somerville told the outlet.
An order from the Fifteenth Circuit Civil Judge John Kastrenakes claims that because of Somerville's mistake, and because the court couldn’t reach him, the civil trial he was supposed to serve at was delayed for nearly an hour.
On Friday, Kastrenakes reduced Somerville's sentence, cutting his probation from a year to three months. He also lowered his hours of community service down to 30, the Associated Press reports. As part of Somerville’s community service, he has to give weekly 10-minute talks about how important jury duty is to other jurors.
“Now I have a record. I almost feel like a criminal now. Now, I have to explain this in every interview,” Somerville told the Associated Press.
The judge’s decision to send Somerville to jail has drawn criticism.
"This is NOT a productive way to encourage people to respect civic service,” Kristen Clarke, the president and executive director of the National Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, tweeted.
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