Few people want to serve on a jury. Taking time off from work, school, caring for children, or other responsibilities is hard. However, unless you can reschedule or claim a hardship, you must show up when the court directs you to appear on the jury summons. Skipping out on your jury duty could actually lead to legal consequences.
How Jury Duty Works
If you are a U.S. citizen and have a driver’s license, state identification card, or voter registration card, the state has your information and can summon you for jury service. You receive notice to appear at a specific date and time.
If you know you have a conflict or will be out of town, most courts allow you to reschedule your service by calling the court or visiting their website. You can schedule a new date for jury service that is more convenient for you.
If you have a hardship that makes it challenging to serve, such as caring for young children, being a full-time student, or having a financial hardship, you may make a claim to the court to be excused. Courts often honor valid excuses for hardship claims.
For example, if you are an entrepreneur of a one-person company and in debt, you may claim financial hardship if you can’t operate your business. Or if you have a severe mental or physical condition that prevents you from sitting on a jury trial, you can request to be excused. Be prepared to show documentation to the court to support your valid reason.
When You Ignore a Jury Duty Summons
If you ignore the first summons, you will likely receive a second summons with a new court date. If you miss the second summons, you may be subject to fines.
For example, in Ventura County, California, where 45% of potential jurors skipped jury duty in 2015, the fine is $250 for the first offense. The penalty for the second offense is $750 and $1,000 or five days in jail for the third offense. That’s right, you can go to jail in some cases for skipping out on jury duty.
If you show up for the summons and are chosen to be a juror, you must show up for ongoing jury duty. The justice system cannot do its job if jurors refuse to serve on trials. By skipping jury duty, a judge can hold you in contempt of court, resulting in fines and jail time. The judge decides if the contempt amounts to a criminal or civil charge.
For example, a Florida man was sentenced to 10 days in jail for oversleeping and missing jury duty. However, after a national outcry, the judge later rescinded the contempt charge.
The Court May Not Ask You to Serve, Anyway
It is best not to risk fines or jail time. Do your civic duty and show up when ordered. Chances are you may not be chosen for a jury panel. Depending on when you appear, the court may have all the jurors they need, and after several hours of waiting, they will dismiss you.
You may also be automatically disqualified. On the first day, the court will give you a questionnaire asking for general information and listing reasons for automatic disqualification. You may not serve if you are a law enforcement officer, a firefighter, or a government employee. There are other reasons for dismissal, such as you are under 18 years of age, do not speak English, or have a felony conviction.
And once you are on a jury panel, you may be dismissed from service during the jury selection process. During this selection process, prospective jurors are asked about their background, experience, and potential biases, which might disqualify them from serving as a juror on the case. So in the end, the chances of ending up on a jury aren’t that high.
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