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Criminal trials in York Countys courts were abruptly halted Wednesday after court officials discovered a computer error that underfed the countys juror pool by more than 45,000 people.
The state-level glitch also affects the countys grand jury system and future court schedule.
Jury pools are built from lists of people who are registered to vote, who have a drivers license or another state-issued identification.
Court employees learned Wednesday that the pool of jurors since the start of 2013 included about 143,000 registered voters. It has not included anyone who has a drivers license or state-issued identification but is not registered to vote, said York County Clerk of Court David Hamilton.
A state computer software program that collects all the names and sends the information back to the clerks office did not include the prospective jurors who are not registered voters, Hamilton said.
It was a computer software issue, nothing intentional, he said, but the problem was caught and acted on.
Hamilton, judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers and officials from S.C. Court Administration spoke Wednesday afternoon to discuss how to fix the problem.
Circuit Court Judge John C. Hayes III, the administrative judge for York County, declared a mistrial in the armed robbery trial he was hearing at the time the error was found and ordered that no other trials be scheduled until a jury pool that complies with state laws governing prospective jurors is in place.
No cost estimate was available Wednesday, but the error will cost taxpayers the money paid to send out thousands of juror summons and the other administrative costs of jury service, plus the lost court time.
This was an unfortunate administrative error, said Harry Dest, 16th Circuit public defender. But the most important thing is the law must be followed, and the courts do this properly.
The error forced court officials to cancel a jury-trial week set for Feb. 11, because the jurors for that term are from the improperly limited pool. The plan is to use that Feb. 11 term for non-jury hearings, and to move trials to Feb. 18th after a full juror pool can be summoned and used, court officials said.
But the juror problem did not just affect current trials.
The countys grand jury, which started earlier this month also came from the pool that was far too small, so a new grand jury will have to be selected from the full pool.
Grand jurors decide whether to issue criminal indictments, which are required before a defendant can have a criminal trial in front of juries of 12 people who determine guilt.
The York County grand jury in January indicted 370 people. Those indictments will be reconsidered by a new grand jury made up from the proper pool, said Kevin Brackett, 16th Circuit Solicitor.
Since the beginning of the year, at least three defendants have been convicted after York County jury trials, Hamilton said. It remains unclear what will happen to those cases specifically.
Dest, the public defender, said defendants who had been found guilty could appeal the verdict alleging an improper jury pool.