What Happens If You Don’t Show Up for Jury Duty?
Ads, flyers, magazine renewal notices, and even your neighbor’s junk mail – one is seldom enthusiastic about checking what’s inside a mailbox. It is especially true if you live in the U.S. and receive an envelope from the court summoning you for jury duty.
If you cannot show up for jury duty (or want to skip it), you’ll have to check the local court rules to determine how to excuse yourself and the consequences. You might get the chance to postpone it once and be assigned a new date, but if you continue putting it off, you risk hefty fines or even jail time.
Before answering the question, “what happens if you don’t go to jury duty?” let’s clear any confusion about what jury duty is, who should serve on a jury and whether you’re really required by the law to show up.
What Is Jury Duty?
The jury is a vital part of the American legal system. Chosen by the lawyers and the judge, a jury usually consists of twelve people representing a cross-section of the community. The jury hears testimony and weighs the evidence to decide whether a defendant is “guilty” (criminal cases) or “liable” (civil cases). Jury duty is a citizen’s obligation to appear before the court and participate in jury selection. It’s one of the ways a member of the public can actively participate in the judicial process. One can consider it their civic responsibility and honor to serve as a juror in court proceedings.
The process begins with a random selection of qualified participants from the electoral register. If you received a jury summons in the mail, you should respond within seven days to confirm your attendance, request a postponement of the court date, or provide a valid excuse to not appear.
Receiving a jury summons can initially seem like a time-consuming inconvenience, jumpstarting your mind to rattle off a list of excuses to avoid your civic duty. If you look at it from a different perspective, it can be a great opportunity to learn more about the justice system and participate in the intricate process of balancing the equities. In either case, intentionally ignoring a jury summons or unintentionally disregarding it can lead to stiff consequences. Keep it in mind when deciding what to do with that government document fresh out of your mailbox.
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Although only a small fraction of cases go to trial, those that do will rely on the jury’s ability to render a fair and objective decision. The jury will be presented with facts about the case, various types of evidence, and arguments from both sides. In the end, the jury should unanimously (unless instructed otherwise) reach a decision, hopefully, one that is fair and equitable.
Without responsible citizens carrying out their civic duties, such as jury service, the legal system could come to a standstill.
Who Can Serve on a Jury?
While the rules may slightly vary across the U.S. states, you can become a part of the list of potential jurors in your county of residence. More specifically, if you meet the criteria below, you may be summoned for jury service once a year or once every several years:
- You are a U.S. citizen;
- You are 18 years of age or older;
- You live in the county where jurisdiction is part of the court;
- You understand and speak English; or
- You are not a felon or have not been charged with a felony.
It should be noted, however, that while a felon loses his right to serve on a jury, this right can be restored seven years after the conviction, depending on the state.
Being eligible to serve on a jury also does not necessarily lead to a jury summons. As noted earlier, jury selection begins as a random name-selection process; some names may never be selected. Many people can go a lifetime without being called for jury duty.
Do I Have To Go to Jury Duty?
Do you have to show up for jury duty? If this question haunts your mind, the short answer is yes.
Jury duty is a civic function that safeguards one of the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of the United States: the right for a speedy trial and an impartial jury. This fundamental right should be protected and carried out by all eligible members of society whenever possible.
What Happens If I Don’t Show Up for Jury Duty?
So, what if you don’t show up for jury duty? Ignoring the first summons might postpone your obligation until a second one is issued. Continuing down this road of indifference may lead to the court finding you in contempt.
Contempt of court, or “contempt”, is a willful action disobeying a court order and is considered a crime. While the judge may show some sympathy for the first offense and issue only a warning, more severe penalties can be imposed for subsequent violations.
Therefore, if you skipped out on your jury duty (or are about to do so), remember that you may have to appear at an order to show cause at a court hearing and state your reasons for not being present. The judge could issue a warning, court-ordered community service, a fine, or even a short prison sentence for contempt.
Penalties for not showing up to jury duty
Suppose you don’t appear for jury duty and also fail to appear at the order to show cause hearing. The judge then has the right to issue an arrest warrant. Probably, you don’t want it, and it’s a good idea not to let things escalate this far.
If you do find yourself in contempt of court, these are the penalties you might face:
- A fine of up to $500 (in some states, up to $1,500), plus the costs for the show cause order. Some states (such as Tennessee) can reduce your penalty to $50 if you complete your jury duty obligations.
- Time spent behind bars. While the exact number of days varies among states, it’s usually between three to five days.
- Community service requirement. This is often combined with other penalties, but in some cases, you may get away with just doing community service.
Also, stretching the truth to get out of jury duty may lead to prosecution for perjury –– a felony, which may lead to an additional prison sentence and a fine of up to $1,000.
If you are still wondering what will happen if you miss jury duty, it may be wise to consult a criminal defense attorney and seek formal legal advice.
How Can I Legally Get Out of Jury Duty?
If you believe you have a justifiable reason to skip jury duty, you can provide your excuse on the jury summons and send it back to the court. Should you not have a legal excuse, you can still postpone your jury duty to a time that works better for you.
Those legally exempt can still voluntarily respond for jury duty, but this is not required by the law. While the excuses to be exempt from service vary from state to state, these are the most common ones:
- Not a U.S. citizen;
- Under 18 years of age or 75 years and older;
- Lack of elementary understanding of English;
- On active military duty;
- Working as a full-time police officer or investigator or providing services that are immediately required for the protection of public health;
- Working as a primary caregiver of a young child or person with a disability;
- Attending school or university outside of the county or state;
- Serving on a jury would impose a mental, physical, or financial strain;
- Served on a jury within the past year; or
- Convicted of a felony.
Reasons such as a personal vacation (no matter how perfectly planned), deadlines at work, or fear of losing your job aren’t valid excuses. They may be reasons to postpone and reschedule your jury service. So whether you fall within one of the recognized excuses for a jury duty exemption or need to reschedule the date based on your circumstances, respond to the summons promptly and present your reasons properly.
It’s up to you to decide how to respond to a jury summons. If you disregard it, you might get away with it for some time. Sooner or later, however, the law will catch up to you, and you may face severe consequences, such as a hefty fine, prison time, or both.
So it’s in your best interest to comply with your civic duty and appear for jury service, request a postponement, or provide a valid excuse to exempt yourself from service. In the end, serving on a jury may become a rewarding experience and help you gain a deeper understanding of how the legal process works to protect us all.