Jury duty is often seen as both a privilege and a chore — on one hand, it’s a cornerstone of our democracy, allowing for a fair and legal system. But, it can be inconvenient, taking you away from your job, family, and daily responsibilities. So what happens if you skip jury duty? Or, to be more precise, is it illegal?
In this article, we’ll dive into the legal ramifications of skipping jury duty in the US, covering everything from penalties to case studies. Let’s start!
First, how do you even get summoned? As a U.S. citizen, jury duty is your chance to take part in the judicial process. Jurors are usually selected from voter registration lists or databases of licensed drivers.
You must meet the following conditions:
If you don’t fit one of these criteria and can prove it, the court will not select you as a juror.
Certain people are generally exempt from jury duty, such as active-duty armed forces members, professional firefighters, police, and public officers.
The U.S. Constitution guarantees everyone the right to a trial by a “jury of their peers” or fellow citizens. So when you’re summoned for jury duty, you’re upholding a constitutional right fundamental to democracy.
Jury duty lasts one day or the duration of a single trial. Even if you aren’t selected for a trial, showing up fulfills your obligation for the year.
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So, what happens if you don’t go to jury duty and hope it will go away? Spoiler alert: It won’t. You’ll likely get another summons with a new date. Ignore that, and you’re inviting trouble.
If you decide not to show up, a judge can accuse you of “contempt of court” a charge that could lead to fines or jail time. The severity of the punishment is up to the judge and can range from civil to criminal charges.
Let’s look at California as an example. Ignoring jury summons in California is a risky business. While you may not face immediate dire consequences for skipping out on your first summons, doing so triggers a red flag in the system. Generally, the first response from the court will be to issue a second summons. Think of it like a second chance.
Not showing up for jury duty for the second time can result in contempt of court, which could mean penalties including:
Let’s take a closer look at fines for skipping jury duty in other states.
|Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia||$1,000||3 days in jail, community service|
|Arizona, Missouri, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin||up to $500||Variously|
|Connecticut, Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Washington, Wyoming||established by the judges||Variously|
|Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky||$100||3 days in jail|
|Maryland||up to $1,000||jail time for up to 60 days|
|Massachusetts||up to $2,000||Variously|
|Minnesota||up to $1,000||90 days in jail|
|New Hampshire, Texas||$100 - $1,000||3 days in jail|
|Vermont||up to $200||Variously|
So, in most states, the skipping jury duty penalty also includes a fine of up to $1,000, but, only up to 3 days in jail, and/or community service.
It’s essential to note that real courts won’t ask for immediate payment over the phone or through wire services. So if you get a call demanding immediate payment for missing jury duty, you’re likely dealing with a scam.
One of the most illustrative examples of what happens if you skip jury duty is the case of Deandre Somerville in Florida.
When Somerville accidentally missed jury duty, the judge found him in contempt of court. This is a legal term that means you’ve disrespected the court’s authority. Somerville’s initial sentence was tough: 10 days in jail, 150 hours of community service, a written apology, a year of probation, and fees. The public couldn’t believe it, especially because Somerville had no criminal history and this was his first offense.
Next, the judge took note of Somerville’s good deeds — he helps his disabled grandfather and volunteers in his community. This shows that judges do weigh your personal life and contributions when deciding your fate, even though the law aims for impartiality.
Why the harsh penalty in the first place? The judge wanted to make an example out of Somerville to deter others from skipping jury duty.
In sum, the case of Deandre Somerville serves as a cautionary tale that skipping jury duty can lead to severe consequences. In fact, Somerville had legitimate reasons for not attending jury duty. If he had contacted a lawyer right away, he would have negotiated a lighter sentence, taking into account his community service and the need to care for his grandfather.
Let’s find out what happens if you miss jury duty the first time. In many jurisdictions, not responding to jury duty may result in a warning or a rescheduling, but this is not guaranteed. If you’ve already skipped a jury summons, your best course of action is to immediately contact the court to explain your absence.
Depending on the circumstances and how proactive you are in resolving the issue, the court may offer some leniency. But, there is no guarantee, and penalties could still apply.
If you don’t show up for jury duty, you will receive a “failure to appear” letter. This letter will instruct you to contact the jury department. If you reschedule and attend on the new date, penalties for missing jury duty generally won’t apply.
We all have stuff going on — kids to take care of, jobs that keep us busy, and even a small business that you run yourself. The courts get it, and they generally allow you to reschedule your service if you have a genuine conflict or hardship. You have to contact the court and ask for a new date. If, for instance, you’re a single parent or you’re swamped with college exams, you can apply to excuse yourself from service. But you need to show proof like documents or a letter to support your case.
Here’s the irony: after all the worry about serving, the court might not even select you as a juror. When you first show up, the court gives you a questionnaire to see if you’re eligible. The selection process can disqualify you based on your background, experience, or any potential biases you might have.
US law recognizes several legitimate reasons for being unable to attend jury service, including:
It is important to note that this list may not be complete, as courts in different states often consider this on an individual basis.
For example, there are only 6 states that don’t disqualify citizens with felonies from serving on a jury:
To get out of jury duty for these reasons, you’ll need to complete a form in response to your summons. The court reviews these excuses on a case-by-case basis. If you’re unsure about what to do, your best course of action is to consult a legal expert. They can guide you through the intricacies of your specific situation and tell on the best course of action.
While jury duty may feel like an inconvenience, it’s a vital part of the American judicial system that ensures a fair trial for all citizens. If you think you have a valid reason to skip, go through the proper channels to excuse yourself. Ignoring a jury summons is a serious matter and can lead to penalties, fines, or even an arrest warrant. And who knows? You might find the experience more interesting.
So, next time that jury summons arrives, take it seriously. Remember, what happens if you skip jury duty may vary by jurisdiction, so consult with your local court for the most accurate information.
Yes. Federal courts pay jurors $50 per day, while state and local courts offer varying payments and may reimburse certain expenses.
There’s no one-size-fits-all “best” excuse for avoiding jury duty, but courts often consider financial hardship, military service, or caregiving roles as valid reasons.
In many jurisdictions, individuals over 70 can be permanently excused from jury duty.
Common factors that disqualify you from jury duty include being under 18, not being a U.S. citizen, language barriers, prior felony convictions, and certain occupations like law enforcement.