21-year-old Deandre Somerville was selected to serve on a civil jury in August. But when he overslept for the trial, he was sentenced to 10 days in jail — despite not having a criminal record.
Somerville from West Palm Beach, Florida, was summoned for a hearing in court last month. A circuit court judge asked him why he didn’t show up to the civil trial for which he had been sworn in as a juror.
“I just said, ‘Sir, honestly I overslept, and I didn’t understand the seriousness of this.’ He asked me if I had a criminal record. I said, ‘Sir, I’ve never been arrested,'” Somerville told CNN affiliate WPTV.
Judge John Kastrenakis found Somerville in direct contempt of court, documents show. Somerville didn’t contact the court to explain his absence, the judge wrote in a court order, and his failure to show up delayed the trial for 45 minutes.
The judge originally sentenced Somerville to 10 days in jail, 150 hours of community service, a written apology of at least 100 words, a year of probation and $233 in fees, according to court records.
Somerville’s case prompted outrage on social media, with many people calling his punishment disproportionate to the offense and pointing out that having a misdemeanor on his record would affect his employment prospects.
He appealed the sentence in court on Friday, but not before he had already spent 10 days in jail.
“Before my hearing, I walked into the courtroom a free man with no criminal record,” Somerville said in court on Friday. “I left a criminal in handcuffs.”
Friends and family vouched for Somerville’s character in Friday’s hearing, noting that he helps care for his disabled grandfather and has been involved in volunteer efforts in his community, WPTV reported. Somerville apologized in a letter to the judge.
“This was an immature decision that I made, and I paid the price for my freedom,” Somerville said, reading from his letter.
Kastrenakis ultimately decided to reduce Somerville’s probation. But the judge maintained that Somerville had committed a serious offense.
“I came to the conclusion it was deserving of punishment. Good people make bad mistakes,” Kastrenakis said.
Instead of a year of probation, Somerville will now serve just three months, according to court records. His 150 hours of community service were reduced to 30 hours, which includes reporting to the jury office once a week to give a 10-minute talk on the importance of jury duty.
Somerville’s public defender asked the judge to throw out the case, according to WPTV. Court records show the judge withheld Somerville’s conviction, and the station reported that the judge said he would entertain a motion in the future to drop the charge.