Finding a summons for jury duty may not be the most joyful experience of your life. On the contrary, it may cause you to groan from the knowledge and annoyance that you will likely need to miss work and other planned events. While there are legitimate ways to get out of jury duty, consider performing this essential civic function when called to serve as a juror.
Jury Duty is Important
Jury duty is the civic obligation of every US citizen who receives a summons in the mail from a court to appear on a particular date and time to serve on a jury potentially.
Apart from your citizen's duty to serve as a juror, it is essential to the American legal system. The right to an impartial jury is embedded in the US Constitution.
I am a bit of a nerd who carries around the US Constitution booklet and gives some pamphlets away to my students. If you were the accused, you would want to count on the court and the jurors to be fair and unbiased participants at your trial. The defendant is entitled to have a jury of one's peers, a phrase that goes back to the Magna Carta in England in 1215 for you history buffs.
I have served in civil and criminal courts and on a grand jury for a narcotics case several times as a juror. Unfortunately, civil cases don't always have jurors.
Each time, I recall opening the summons and saying to myself, “A#@!+?$*” and wanting to get excused from the requirement. I did have to change the dates a couple of times. However, I found each of my experiences on a jury to be a valuable learning experience, and ultimately I went to law school.
Make The Best of The Opportunity To Be A Juror
Being in a courtroom, you come to understand the significance of your civic duty. Jurors bear the weight of determining the facts based on hearing from the witnesses and examining the evidence. The respective parties count on the jurors’ fairness.
To serve as a juror is an opportunity to have a front-row seat in participatory democracy. After listening to the facts of a case, and the instructions on the law by the judge, I found myself and my fellow jurors taking the deliberation process seriously when Judge asked us: “to discuss the issues and decisions carefully.”
How Do You Get On The List For Jury Duty?
Random selection of potential jurors comes from lists of registered voters, people with driver's licenses or IDs from the DMV, tax filers, recipients of unemployment insurance, those on family assistance, and volunteers who live in that specific jurisdiction.
A typical potential juror must be a US citizen, at least 18 years of age, understand and communicate in English, and not be convicted of a felony. The summons doesn’t mean you will serve on a jury, only that you are in the pool with others. Dismissal from jury service can come in a day or two, and you are free from further serving for a time.
There is a jury selection process that usually takes place in the courtroom with the presiding judge. The attorneys for both sides and judges select juries by “voir dire,” meaning “to speak the truth.” The judge and attorneys will ask prospective jurors questions to determine competence and suitability to serve on the jury. The respective attorney can remove a juror if they think there may be potential bias against their side.
I recall a lot of downtime, catching up on work, learning how to play Candy Crush from another juror, and reading a book or two during my stints.
What's A Jury?
There may be 6-12 jurors plus alternate jurors depending on the court, and the Grand Jury consists of 16 to 23 people. Jurors are factfinders who will get instructions from the Judge after closing arguments to decide whether a person is liable in a civil suit or guilty in a criminal case based on the facts of the case.
Take Jury Duty Seriously
There are times when you cannot serve as a juror due to personal circumstances, and there are legitimate ways to get out of jury duty or postpone it. For example, if you have paid for a non-refundable vacation and will be out of town during the time frame, you can request a postponement. Be prepared with receipts of your plane tickets and hotel reservations.
It is always important to check with your respective court about how you may do so as jurisdictions vary. Importantly, never lie to the court about false circumstances as you can get into a heap of trouble. Perjury is a felony.
If you receive a summons for jury duty more than once and fail to show up without getting excused from service, the court can find you in contempt. In addition, jurors who fail to appear may be subject to a civil penalty, especially if they have done it a few times.
Here Are 15 Legitimate Ways To Get Out of Jury Duty
1. Financial Hardship
This excuse is problematic because many people cite financial difficulties, suddenly preferring their jobs over jury duty. Judges hold the line on excusing potential jurors, fearing a mass exodus.
I recall a story where a judge excused a farmer who said it would be a hardship for him to serve as it was harvesting time. Suddenly, everyone in the jury pool in the rural Iowan courtroom raised their hands with similar circumstances. The judge had little choice but to postpone the double-homicide case, much to the chagrin of the grieving families.
You must be able to prove the potential for extreme financial burden, like risking your job, and with documentation that you can bring to establish your circumstances. For example, during one of the times I served on a jury, it was the busy earnings season. As an analyst, I was responsible for speaking to my trading floor and investors about results. I carried my work with me to the court, and on breaks, I made phone calls and wrote reports.
Some people may fear retribution from their employers for missing work or assignments. As soon as you get a jury duty summons, let your employer know of this obligation. No employer may fire an employee because of that absence. If you fear losing your job, a promotion, or income, postpone your jury duty to a less busy time for your work.
You receive per diem compensation for your jury service (it's $40 per day in New York), and a firm with less than ten employees may withhold your wages.
2. Primary Caregiver
If you are the sole caregiver for your children aged five years or less, you may ask the court to excuse you from jury service, but it is not automatically granted, at least in certain jurisdictions.
You may have a better chance of getting a six-month postponement of your service until you arrange for child care. When our kids were toddlers, my husband would get out of jury duty as I was in law school at that time.
Judges have the discretion to excuse jurors, and they know the estimated length of the trial, which runs about three to seven days. So when they realize it may run longer than that, they may be more generous in letting primary caregivers off the hook.
Here's an interesting factoid on jury duty and gender. Women didn't fully participate as jurors until the 1930s, and they were frequently struck down by the attorneys using peremptory challenges solely based on gender. However, that changed when the US Supreme Court case decided JEB v Alabama in 1994, making it unconstitutional to remove a woman from the jury solely on gender.
Now, women are increasingly the breadwinners of their households, making it more difficult for them to serve as jurors.
3. High-Risk Pregnancy or Breastfeeding
If you are experiencing a high-risk pregnancy requiring bed rest and not working, you are likely to be excused from jury duty with a letter of instructions from the ob-gyn doctor. I recall a Judge jokingly asking a woman for a birth announcement as proof for his file.
Reviewing Rules of Court, notably in California, a mother who is breastfeeding a child may request that jury service be deferred for up to one year and may renew that request as long as she is breastfeeding. The request must be in writing.
4. Full-Time Student
When you are a full-time student, you mustn’t miss classes or exams, particularly when close to graduation. On the day you are to report to the court for jury duty, bring documentation, like your transcript, class schedule, and syllabi to prove your status as a full-time student. As we mentioned above, please don't ignore the summons you receive in the mail, as the court will eventually catch up to you.
5. Belong To A Group Exempt From Federal Jury Service
Three groups get automatic exemption from federal jury duty:
- Members of the armed forces on active duty;
- Members of a professional fire and police department; and
- “Public Officers” of federal, state, or local governments who are actively engaged full-time in the performance of public duties.
If you belong to one of these groups, you cannot serve on a federal jury. Check on your state for similar exemptions, which may also exclude your spouse from jury duty.
6. Already Served Recently
Once you have served as a jury, you are typically exempt from jury duty in any other court for a set time. In NYC, it may take as long as four years, while California says you may serve once every twelve months though it is unlikely to happen that often.
At one point, I received a Grand Jury summons soon after serving in another court. Ordinarily, I should have been exempt from service, but I had to serve because of a backlog of narcotic cases. I found the Grand Jury service to be fascinating, learning about wire-tapping and the opioid epidemic.
7. Small Business Owner
When running your own business and you are the only source of income for your family, serving on a jury poses a financial hardship. The courts are often amenable to granting an excuse or a postponement so you can get some help.
My father ran a hardware and housewares store and didn't seek an exemption when called. As a result, he had difficulties serving as a juror. He had to close the store for days he served, lost income, and one time he had an unexpected delivery of merchandise, and someone stole most of the wares.
8. Don't Live In The Jurisdiction
This excuse should be relatively straightforward. If you moved over the past year, you may still be on the roster and receive a summons from your previous location. You can usually call the court and explain that you are no longer living in the same area. They will probably ask you for documentation and ask you to register to vote in the new location and update the address for DMV purposes.
9. You Are Opinionated or Biased
Being an expert is usually valuable at your work or in your career. It is not a good trait to be opinionated as a juror. The judges will want potential jurors to be open, unbiased, and not share their opinions, at least not until you are in the deliberation room.
Your role as a juror is to be someone capable of suppressing minor biases to be fair to the parties of the case and to decide the case solely on the evidence presented at the trial. When jurors make inappropriate comments or jokes that indicate bias, the court will dismiss that juror.
Some people cannot suppress their biases easily. For example, a person with strong opinions about the police may not be a juror in a criminal case. On the other hand, one of the attorneys may recognize the bias and dismiss the prospective juror as is their right through peremptory challenges.
10. Peremptory Challenges
Each lawyer has a specific number of peremptory challenges during voir dire. These challenges permit a lawyer to excuse a potential juror without stating a cause. Instead, the lawyer will dismiss the potential juror on the belief that the juror may not serve their client's best interests and possibly be biased against them.
That juror may go back into the jury pool and get picked for another case, unlike being excused from jury duty entirely.
11. Have A Mental or Physical Disability
A judge may excuse a prospective juror from service if they medically or psychologically cannot sit for extended times as jurors. You may need to bring a letter from your physician, psychologist, or psychiatrist explaining the hardship or recent surgery on the date of your summons. The judge or someone from the court may ask you to fill out a questionnaire and ask follow-up questions. The court may try to accommodate you.
I recall a fellow juror who had a bad back wanted to serve but brought a letter from her doctor that asked if she could stand up or lay down at times, and they allowed her to do so.
12. Individuals Over A Certain Age
Many states have statutory exemptions that allow individuals over a certain age to request exclusion from jury duty. You may request an exemption in writing or online based on being the age of 70 or above and provide some proof like a driver's license.
There are no upper age limits, and if you are healthy and desire to serve, you will likely be welcome to become a juror. Whenever I went to the court, as a juror or professionally, I often saw retirees above 70 who enjoy working and actively participating in the process.
13. Don't Speak Or Understand English
Besides a minimum age requirement, jurors should have the ability to speak and understand English. It would be challenging to sit through a trial if you cannot convey your opinion in the deliberation stage of the case or have a basic comprehension of what is happening in the courtroom.
14. Emotional or Mental Instability
There may be reasons when a person cannot serve because they went through a death in the family or trauma that prevents them emotionally from participating as a juror. When called for jury duty for criminal cases, you can ask for an excusal if you were a victim of a violent crime or fear not being able to handle details of such a crime.
Research shows that even people who are not survivors of a crime may end up with PTSD after serving as jurors on complex cases. Therefore, although there is no guarantee of being excused, you should vocalize your objection to the judge and offer to volunteer to go to a white-collar crime case.
15. Potential Conflicts of Interest
There may be times when you have a conflict based on your line of work, a specific experience, or familial relationship. But, again, it depends on the particular circumstances and closeness to you and if you will be compromising your role as a juror.
For example, if you serve as a juror in criminal court, there are bound to be cases involving the police. If you believe you may have problems being impartial serving on a jury because you are closely related to a police officer or a detective, you should raise this issue to the court. This example may be grounds for dismissal.
Civil cases have their share of various conflicts. For example, you may be a contractor, and your case is similar to your experiences at work and may raise a conflict for you. In addition, when you have a connection to the occupation of one of the parties involved in the lawsuits, it may reduce your impartiality.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Feature Image Credit: Ekaterina Bolovtsova/Pexels.