Under the U.S. Constitution, people who have been arrested and charged with serious crimes generally have a right to a trial by jury of their peers. The jury is a body of citizens (usually 12 people, but in some states, as few as 6 or 8) responsible for listening to the case. They will help to determine the guilt or liability of a defendant.
To ensure that people charged with crimes (the defendants) can have their cases heard by a jury, all U.S. citizens are obligated to serve on a jury if ordered. When a person is called for jury duty, that service is mandatory, and the person called for jury duty must attend.
In most jurisdictions, citizens may be obligated to serve on a jury once a year. This doesn’t always mean they will be called to the jury or seated each year. It simply means they must show up to court if they are called or “summoned.” (A summons is a legal document used in criminal cases and civil lawsuits.
The summons will include the date, time, and place for a court hearing. It is a very important legal document. If you receive a summons, you must respond and appear in court on the scheduled date. There can be serious consequences for ignoring a summons. The person will usually be summoned to a court near their residence.
When a person is summoned to serve on a jury, this is called “jury duty.” Jury duty is mandatory unless the juror is excused from serving on the jury by the court for a valid reason or if their services are not needed.
How Can a Person Summoned Miss Jury Duty?
If a person is called for jury duty, they must report to the court at the time and place indicated in the jury summons (usually sent in the mail). An individual might miss jury duty in two general ways:
- Failing to Respond to a Jury Summons: The summons will require the summoned person to respond. They must call the court when they receive the summons to confirm they will be there if needed. The call is usually made right after receiving the summons or the day before the date of jury duty. Sometimes, they may make the call and learn they aren’t required to attend court.
- Failing to Show Up for Jury Duty: A person may respond to the jury duty summons but still fail to show up to report at the court.
Both are considered violations and may result in serious consequences for the summoned person. Failing to report for jury duty is illegal and results in a wide range of penalties, from simply being placed back into the selection pool to immediate criminal prosecution and having a bench warrant issued for contempt of court. This does not mean the police will actively try to find the person. However, if they are pulled over in a traffic stop, and the police see a bench warrant on their record, they will arrest them.
Contempt of court is defined as any willful disobedience or disregard of a court order and includes misconduct in the court’s presence. It also includes any action interfering with a judge’s ability to administer justice or behavior that insults the court. If someone is found guilty of contempt of court, they could be placed in jail and responsible for paying fines. For these reasons, a person should do their best to respond to the jury summons as soon as possible and attend court if required.
What are Some Valid Reasons for Missing Jury Duty?
Of course, people may have many events, happenings, and even emergencies occurring in their lives when 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:
- They did not receive proper notice of the scheduled court date
- They had a different court appearance that was scheduled before the one they missed
- They were experiencing a serious illness or were in an accident
- There was a natural disaster (for example, a tornado, earthquake, flood, etc.)
- There was a death in the family.
- They are needed to care for dependents
- Serving on a jury would cause “undue hardship”
- They are a student and cannot miss time from school
- There would be a significant financial hardship or an employment hardship
- They are in the military and are on deployment
- The public needs them for some other purpose (e.g., they are a police officer)
- They are deceased
- Any other reason deemed acceptable by the court.
To miss jury duty for these reasons, a person must show up on the day indicated on the summons and then plead with the court for special dispensation. The original jury duty summons letter typically includes instructions for doing so.
The person may be asked to provide proof of the circumstances when requesting.
For instance, if a person is going to miss jury duty due to a medical condition, they may need to provide a letter from their doctor as proof. 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 explaining 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, that is not considered a valid reason, and the court can ignore their request.
What Happens If I Miss Jury Duty?
If you do not attend your court date, the court will charge you with Failure to Appear. Failure to appear is a crime. You will receive a criminal charge. In some states, this crime can be charged as a misdemeanor. In other states, it can be charged as a felony.
Missing jury duty can result in various consequences or punishments. The exact consequences for missing jury duty depend on whether a judge finds the individual in contempt of court, as discussed above. Contempt can be criminal or civil. Missing jury duty is generally classified as civil contempt.
Penalties for missing jury duty can result in the following:
- Having a bench warrant issued for your arrest
- Fines (sometimes up to $1,000) or
- Jail time (usually up to 5 days maximum)
- Suspending or revoking your driver’s license
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 is found to have intentionally deceived the court to miss jury duty, penalties might be greater.
Should I Contact a Lawyer if I Miss Jury Duty?
Missing jury duty is a serious violation, and as mentioned, you can face major penalties for missing jury duty. You will want to consult a criminal lawyer if you miss jury duty. This is particularly true if you missed jury duty because you simply forgot or could not attend because of one of the reasons given above.
A lawyer can hear your case by a judge before any punishment occurs. Your lawyer may help you avoid the consequences of missing jury duty.