Any person who has been arrested and charged with a crime generally has a right to a trial by jury. In order to ensure that people charged with crimes (the defendants) are able to have their case reviewed in court properly, citizens may be obligated to serve on a jury. In most jurisdictions, citizens may be obligated to serve on a jury once a year.
This doesn’t always mean that they will be called to the jury or seated each year. It simply means that you do have an obligation to show up to court in the event that you are called or “summoned”. The person will usually be summoned to a court nearby their place of residence.
When a person is summoned to serve on a jury, this is called “jury duty”. The jury is a body of citizens (usually 12 people) who are responsible for listening to the case. They will help to determine the guilt or liability of a defendant. Jury duty is mandatory, unless the juror is excused from serving on the jury by the court due to a valid reason or if their services are not needed.
If a person is called for jury duty, they have a duty to report to the court at the time and place indicated in the jury summons, which is sent in the mail. An individual can miss jury duty in two general ways:
- Failing to Respond to a Jury Summons: You must usually call the court when you receive the summons to confirm whether you need to show up. The call is usually made the day or night before the date of jury duty. Sometimes you may make the call and learn that you aren’t required to show up at the court the next day after all.
- Failing to Show Up for Jury Duty: A person may respond to the jury duty summons, but still fail to show up the following morning to report at the court.
Both of these are considered violations and may result in serious consequences for the person being summoned. Thus, a person should do their best to both respond to the jury summons as soon as possible, as well as show up to court the next day if they are required to do so.
Of course, people may have many events, happenings, and even emergencies occurring in their lives at the time they are summoned for jury duty. Courts and judges understand this perfectly, and there are several valid reasons for which a person may be excused from serving on jury duty.
Some valid reasons for missing jury duty may include:
- Medical reasons or emergencies;
- Undue hardship;
- Public necessity;
- Dependent care (you need to care for a dependent);
- Student status;
- Financial or employment hardship;
- Military status (like on deployment);
- Deceased; and/or
- Any other reason deemed acceptable by the court.
If a person is going to miss jury duty on account of these reasons, they must usually make a request with the court. Instructions for doing so are typically included in the original jury duty summons letter. When making the request, the person may be asked to provide proof of the circumstances.
For instance, if a person is going to miss jury duty on account of a medical condition, they may need to provide a letter of proof or support from their doctor. If they have a financial hardship or a condition with their employment that won’t let them attend jury duty, they will likely need to submit a letter from their employer providing the reasons why.
Note that some requests may be denied at the discretion of the court. This all depends on the exact circumstances of the request. While the person might feel like they should be excused from jury duty, like missing the birth of their first grandchild, it is not considered a valid reason and the court can ignore their request.
Missing jury duty can result in various consequences or punishments. The exact consequences for missing jury duty depends on whether a judge finds you in contempt of court. Contempt of court occurs if a person defies, disrespects, or impedes the court’s authority or ability to perform its duties. Contempt can be criminal or civil. Missing jury duty is generally classified as civil contempt.
Penalties for missing jury duty can result in contempt of court, which may be punishable by:
- Fines (sometimes up to $1,000) and/or
- Jail time (usually up to 5 days maximum).
These punishments may vary and will depend on state and local laws, as well as the nature of the way the person missed jury duty. For instance, if the person intentionally deceived the court in order to miss jury duty, penalties might be greater.
Missing jury duty is a serious violation, and as mentioned, you can face major penalties for missing jury duty. If you miss jury duty, you will want to consult a criminal lawyer. Your lawyer may help you avoid any of the consequences of missing jury duty.