The Call of Jury Duty

By Susan M. Brazas, Attorney

A nondescript envelope appears in the mailbox. Return address: the County Courthouse Jury Commission. It may be tempting to toss the envelope aside into a "look at later" stack, or even to throw it away as junk mail. But resist the temptation; a jury summons might be inside.

Jury Service Is an Obligation

One of the fundamental rights set forth in the United States Constitution is a trial by a jury of your peers. The natural consequence is finding a way to fill the jury box. A variety of sources for a "pool" of potential jurors, such as registered voters, valid drivers and property owners is used.

A jury duty summons orders you to come to the courthouse to be selected as a potential juror. The summons is more than an invitation or suggestion: It's a command. Some courts take harsh steps to deal with "scofflaws" who ignore their summons, including fines or court appearances where a judge demands an explanation why they didn't appear.

Be Prepared to Explain Your Circumstances

Even if you're called for jury duty, you might not have to actually serve on a jury. Some people are excused "for cause," where a significant hardship or conflict prevents them from giving their full and objective attention to a trial. Others are excused by "challenges" exercised by one of the attorneys who predicts - though not always revealing why - they likely won't be sympathetic to their client's case.

Beware the "downside" of being excused from jury selection:

  1. The judge might direct you to a different courtroom where another jury is being selected
  2. You might receive another jury duty summons in the near future

It's impossible to know whether either scenario could be even more burdensome.

To say that jurors receive minimal compensation is an understatement. Often, jurors receive just a few dollars per day. This seems little thanks for the inconvenience, time and stress of sitting through a trial.

In these difficult economic times, many called for jury duty anguish over the financial strain of a day, week or month away from work - or from searching for work. Typically, potential jurors will be asked whether jury service poses a substantial hardship on their lives.

It may be worthwhile to gather documents in advance to provide confirmation of the economic toll of a prolonged period of jury service. Bring documents showing:

  • Job interviews
  • Requirements to undertake an active job search
  • List of critical projects or deadlines during the expected dates of jury

Research Workplace Rules about Jury Service

Checking your workplace policy for jury duty is helpful advance preparation. If those policies specifically state that jury duty won't be paid, or counts against vacation days or personal days, it may be helpful to have a copy available when reporting for jury duty.

Some states have laws prohibiting an employer from penalizing employees for complying with a lawful summons. An attorney specializing in employment law can be a useful source of information about what laws protect employees who meet their obligations of jury duty.

Giving the employer the earliest possible notification is the wisest course, with a copy of the jury duty summons provided to corroborate the dates and times of expected absence. It will also be helpful to promptly document the employer's response to, and receipt of, this notification.

Jury duty shouldn't feel like a burden, but sometimes it can be. It's your duty and if you're paid by your workplace for it; think of it as a chance to make a difference. If you have to go to jury duty and are selected, but it's a hardship, be prepared to prove it.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I've had several deferrals for jury duty, and I can't get a deferral again. I really can't serve on a jury due to my job. What can I do so I won't get in trouble with the court or my employer?
  • Why do I always get called for jury duty, and a friend, who is also a registered voter never does?
  • How does jury duty and compensation affect my unemployment compensation report? If I'm serving jury duty, do I still have to look for a job to receive benefits for a given week or reporting period?
Related Resources on Lawyers.comsm

- Jury Pool
- Time Off for Jury Duty and Voting
- Find a General Practice lawyer in your area
- Visit the forums for discussions on the Legal System

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