Jury Dodgers: Are You In Trouble If You Missed Your Jury Duty?

Jury Duty
By Ben Hartwig
07 February, 2019

Have you ever been called for jury duty and missed it? Juries are selected from registered voter lists in your local district, and anyone who’s selected is notified via mail or when they are expected to show for final selection. Serving on a jury is considered a public service, although a small daily stipend is paid to jurors. Cases can range from fraud to murder charges, and juries sit through sometimes weeks of testimony before deliberating and determining whether to convict the defendant.

  1. How are juries selected?

Juries are selected at random from current registered voter lists. If you are selected for jury duty, you’ll be notified of a date and time to show up to court for the selection process.

  1. How can you avoid jury duty?

If you are not a registered voter in your county, you’ll likely never be selected for duty. If you are called for duty, there are certain reasons you can give the court to avoid showing up to court on your prescribed date and time. Disability, having a career in criminal law, being out of state, having travel plans, illness or financial hardship are commonly accepted excuses for jury duty. However, every jurisdiction will differ, so read your summons carefully to determine how you might be able to get out of it legally or whether you can request a different date.

Once you show up to your summons, you may or may not even get called for questioning. If you are toward the end of the list, the needed jurors may get selected before they even get to your name. However, there are ways to make sure you aren’t selected by the attorneys if you do make it to questioning.

If you appear to have more knowledge of the legal process than other potential jurors, they will likely strike you. They don’t want a legal professional influencing the decisions of other jurors in the deliberation room. Additionally, if you appear to be partial in any way, or otherwise incapable of exhibiting impartiality, you will be stricken from the list.

Many times the judge will let potential jurors know the expected length of the trial and ask if anyone has conflicts with that. If you can portray any type of hardship being away from home or work for that length of time would bring you, the judge will likely excuse you.

Potential jurors are also excused if they know or have a preconceived opinion of either of the parties involved in the case. For example, if you know the defendant personally or have opinions formed about a case from media coverage you’ve read or seen on the news, the court will assume you can’t be impartial and will excuse you.

  1. Can the government punish you if you don’t show up for jury duty?

The short answer to this question is “yes.” However, each jurisdiction is different. Many courts are sick of people ignoring their jury summons and starting to issue more severe punishments for anyone who doesn’t show. Some counties may issue a bench warrant, have mandatory jail time or even significant fines that can total in the thousands. A bench warrant means you could go to jail if you’re simply stopped for a traffic infraction later. In other counties, the sheriff himself may come to your home to present you with your warrant.

It should be noted that missing work or school is not a legitimate excuse, as employers are not allowed to legally penalize you for serving. Many colleges have similar policies and will excuse your absence. However, if you are self-employed or work on a commission basis, you might be able to make a case for the judge to excuse you.

The best rule of thumb is to simply show up when you’re summoned for jury duty. If you think you have an excuse that is valid, explain it to the judge and cross your fingers. If you’ve already missed your summons date, call the court and ask to be rescheduled or find out what you can do to remedy the situation. The last thing you need is a warrant for your arrest or notice that you owe thousands of dollars in fines for not showing up for your summons date!

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