Do you have a jury duty summons?
Even if you’re a diehard Law and Order fan or are a mock juror, don’t feel guilty if you want to get out of jury duty.
Although jury duty is a “civic duty,” there are plenty of unknowns that make jury duty stressful. You don’t know how long the trial will last or if your boss will keep paying you. You don’t know if it’ll be a high profile case that upends your life. You don’t know a lot of things… and sometimes it’s better just to keep on with the routine.
Receiving a summons—while a hassle—doesn’t mean you automatically make the final panel.
There are several legitimate ways to excuse yourself from jury duty.
Learn How Jury Duty Selection Works
Each local, state and federal judicial district has different juror qualifications to make their prospective juror list. Districts randomly select names from voter registration and driver’s license rosters.
You are eligible for jury duty if you meet these qualifications:
- Are at least 18 years old
- Lived in the judicial district for at least 12 months
- Not been convicted of (or currently have) a felony, perjury, or an infamous offense
- Haven’t served on a jury duty panel in the last 24 months with the same judicial district
Theoretically, you shouldn’t receive a summons if you don’t meet all the above requirements but we all know that humans and computer algorithms are imperfect. For example, the county may not have updated their records if you recently moved to another district.
If you receive a summons, look for your participation dates and the steps you must take to prepare for jury duty. Also, search for a section with appeal instructions. Some judicial districts include a list of valid excuses.
You might be able to send sufficient proof to excuse yourself without attending the initial orientation session. If not, you will need to try and provide a legitimate reason during the voir dire oral interview with the judge or attorneys for a last-minute reprieve.
Make sure you show up on the required dates, or you can be subject to a hefty fine. My local county charges a $500 fine and can hold no-show jurors in contempt of court. Make sure you’re always honest as you can face perjury charges by providing false information.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional attorney. None of the content in this article is legal advice.
Legit Excuses to Get Out of Jury Duty
Each judicial district handles jury duty excuses differently, and the judge may ultimately decide if you must serve or not.
An excuse that may work in your county may not work in a neighboring county courthouse. However, you might have several valid reasons you can use to get out of jury duty.
You No Longer Live in the Judicial District
Your county may use driver license and voter registration databases that are up to 24 months old. If you have moved in the last two years, you may no longer live in the correct judicial district. Providing your current address can prove you live outside the district.
Completed Jury Duty in the Same District Recently
Most judicial districts will excuse you if you’re summoned for jury duty a second time in 24 months. You can contact the courthouse to tell them the dates of your last summons to see if you qualify.
The State of California has a different policy that can reduce your chances of having to appear in court. Californians can only participate once every 12 months for up to five days.
It’s possible to be summoned for jury duty in multiple judicial districts within a short time. For example, you can receive a summons for both county and federal jury duty in the same year. You can be required to participate in both as they are different court systems.
Can Not Speak Sufficient English
If English isn’t your first language, you might have a valid excuse when you can’t fully understand the trial topics or communicate your opinion.
You’re a First Responder or Work in Law Enforcement
First responders, law enforcement, and other volunteer emergency personnel may get a pass. One common reason is that you’re already performing your civic duty daily.
Another reason is these professions may have a bias to favor their peers in the courtroom. After all, it can easily be you who, instead of your fellow officer, is relying on an impartial jury.
Being able to prove financial hardship if you attend jury duty is another possibility. One reason is if your employer won’t pay your lost wages and your spouse’s income can’t pay the bills.
Most county-level jurors earn between $10 and $15 per day and federal jurors make $50 per day. There are no federal laws requiring employers to pay the difference in your average daily lost wages.
A handful of states have laws on the books requiring employers to cover the remaining lost wages. However, you may need to be a full-time employee at a business with at least five employees to qualify.
Government agency employees will continue to receive their regular daily wage, in most cases.
If you’re a business owner, freelancer, or work for a tiny business, you can try claiming financial hardship. You may need to provide proof of employment to justify your excuse.
If your employer has multiple shifts—like a restaurant or factory—you may try and work a different shift to at least recoup some of their regular wages. Switching work schedules is possible on days when you call in and don’t need to appear, but it’s too late to work your usual shift.
If you swap shifts, you must still get proper rest to attend jury duty the next day. So, you won’t be able to “call in sick” to jury duty because you were working all night.
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Unreliable Transportation or Excessive Travel Time
You may get out of jury duty if it’s difficult for you to reach the courthouse each day.
One example is living in a remote location without public transportation options or reliable transportation. Not having a family member who can bring you can add credibility to your plea.
Many court systems reimburse your public transit costs or personal auto mileage. This compensation makes it harder to contest you have a long or expensive commute.
Physical or Medical Impairment
Certain physical or mental impairments can excuse you from service. Maybe you’re recovering from a recent surgery or have ongoing medical treatment. Be ready to provide a doctor’s note explaining your condition.
You Care for a Child or Elderly Family Member
If you’re the primary care provider for a family member, you might get excused.
Qualifying examples can include:
- Nursing a newborn
- Caring for a special needs child
- Caring for aging parents
- Are an expecting mother
You may need to prove that another family member cannot provide adequate care in your absence. Also, you may need to prove that you cannot afford to hire a caretaker during these dates.
Your Work or School Schedule Conflicts
A conflicting work schedule can be somewhat subjective. Federal and state laws restrict employers from discriminating against employees serving jury duty. This excuse will need to be pretty good to pass muster.
However, you might be able to excuse or postpone your summons for these extenuating circumstances:
- You’re a full-time student
- Upcoming military duty
- It’s a hectic season in a critical work industry (i.e., a tax preparer in tax season)
This excuse may only delay your jury duty dates, but at least it buys you time. Postponing may let you avoid being selected in the next round if there’s a light caseload.
You’re At Least 70 Years Old
Being at least 70 years old may get you out of jury duty; however, some court systems are clear to say there isn’t an upper age limit. Again, anyone over age 18 years old is eligible to receive a jury duty summons.
Potential Conflict of Interest
Depending on the court case, you may present a conflict of interest. For example, maybe you know some of the involved parties or a family member with an identical situation. Having a similar personal experience can also be a conflict of interest.
Your life experience and personal relationships mean you can have a bias that clouds your judgment. Make sure you present this information during the voir dire as soon as possible.
A firm conviction on these topics may also present a conflict of interest:
- Death penalty
- Owning firearms
- Police officers
- Drug possession
Whether you strongly support or strongly oppose hot button topics, tell the truth. You don’t always know which position the attorneys are looking for, and trying to please their ears may not work in your favor.
It’s not easy to get out of jury duty although it’s worth trying if you have a valid excuse. A potential conflict of interest, health reasons, or financial hardship can be the best excuses.