West Palm Beach, FL — Jury duty, like voting, is considered by many Americans as one’s civic duty. But as one young man from Florida would learn, jury duty is anything but voluntary. He overslept, missed jury duty, and a judge threw the book at him, sentencing him to 10 days in jail and one year of probation. However, this man’s story now has a happy ending thanks to his situation garnering national attention and a hefty dose of backlash.
After Deandre Somerville’s story went viral last week, for all the wrong reasons, the country reacted by calling out the judge for such a harsh sentence for a simple mistake. The backlash from the entire country seemingly worked too.
Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes vacated and rescinded his finding of contempt of court and the sentence of probation for Deandre Somerville, after “reflection over the weekend,” the Palm Beach Post reported.
Somerville lives in Fort Lauderdale. He’s a parks and recreation after school worker for the City of West Palm Beach. He was summoned for jury duty last month, for the first time ever, and showed up on time the first day. But after being selected to serve as a juror the following day in a civil case, he simply overslept.
Instead of waking early and going to jury duty, he woke at around noon, never calling the court, and got ready to head off to his after school job. He told reporters in a telephone interview, downplaying his mistake:
What’s the worst case scenario that could happen?’ I thought maybe I would get a fine or something like that.
Somerville lives with his grandparents and to his surprise, deputies showed up at his home with a court summons for him to return to jury duty. His grandpa gave him some advice which he shared with reporters.
My grandfather said, ‘Just go in and be honest’. I’ve never had a criminal background, never been arrested, never been in handcuffs. The most I’ve ever gotten was a traffic ticket so I was thinking it wouldn’t be that bad.
Judge John Kastrenakes had Somerville handcuffed when he arrived to perform his civic duty. But instead of being allowed to sit on the jury, Kastrenakes sentenced Somerville to 10 days in jail, one year of probation, and 150 hours of community service.
Sadly, despite the judges recent decision, it came well after Somerville had been locked in a cage.
Somerville had never been to jail. The 21-year-old man said he got through the traumatic ordeal by praying and writing in his journal. Hundreds of thousands of people go to jail yearly with few having to spend 10 days in jail. Most people do 24 hours at most, bond out, and get on with life. Not Somerville, who says he worries about being able to get a job in the future.
“Now I have a record. I almost feel like a criminal now. Now, I have to explain this in every interview,” he said. But luckily, the outcry from America is changing that.
According to the Post, after he served the jail sentence, his probation was reduced to three months on Friday after the judge received an apology from Somerville and heard from his family. The judge also agreed to change his conviction for contempt of court to an adjudication withheld once he completed probation.
“The only reason the Court left him on a short term of probation was so that others could learn and take heed that serving on a jury is serious business deserving of attention, respect and adherence to their oaths,” Kastrenakes wrote in Monday’s order.
After the judge rescinded the sentence, Somerville’s probation was removed and he will no longer be required to do his community service.
Kastrenakes wrote in Monday’s order he did “not want even a finding of contempt to be gleaned from perusal of his background or record.” He said he found the 21-year-old to be “a thoughtful and respectful young man” who cares deeply about his family.
The judge then went on to promise that all future violators will most assuredly face similar fates and they will not be as lucky as Somerville.
“The court also knows that it would have punished anyone who behaved the way Mr. Somerville behaved in the same manner,” Kastrenakes wrote.
Originally, Judge Kastrenakes admitted he had only been inconvenienced for 45 minutes. But Somerville’s time in jail far exceeded an hour. In fact, it was 240 hours that he will never get back.
Luckily, his story now has a silver lining.