Many people shudder with dread when they get the envelope in the mail that reads “summons.”
They think of the impact that jury service will have on their life, especially if they end up on a trial that stretches on for weeks.
Their first thought is about how to get out of jury duty because they do not want the disruption in their life.
This post will not try to pound the table about the civic duty of jury service, as it is not our place.
Instead, we will discuss whether you can reschedule jury duty or not have to go through it entirely.
It Is Easier than Ever to Be Found for Jury Duty
The court system has a way of tracking you when they need you to serve on a jury.
Some people do not vote because they think that only registered voters are called for jury duty. That is not true.
While courts do have access and use lists of registered voters, this is not all that they access (in Illinois, being registered to vote does not affect jury duty).
Licensed drivers are subject to being called for jury duty, as the courts have access to the lists from the DMV.
The Factors for Selection of Jurors in Illinois
Illinois makes a list of jurors every year in September based on a scan of the following:
- Illinois driver’s licenses
- Illinois state identification cards
- Identification cards of people with disabilities
- People who have claimed unemployment benefits
There will be a master list from each county. Every tenth person will be selected and placed on the list. From that date forward, until the next September, they can possibly be called for jury duty.
When selecting potential jurors to be summoned, the county clerk will be blindfolded. They will have box of names in front of them, and the box will be shaked.
They will literally pull names out of the box and those people will receive a jury summons.
How Are People Chosen for Jury Duty?
Some people think that they are just plain unlucky when they get the jury summons in the mail.
In a way, that is partly true. Potential jurors are randomly selected from the pool.
This is why some people can get jury duty twice in a short period of time, while others may not be called for over a decade, or even at all. The selection system is completely random.
Unfortunately, for some, it means that they will be called for civil cases or a criminal case at the worst possible time. The only restriction is that you cannot receive a jury summons twice within a 12-month span.
As you see, there is no rhyme or reason for when you may get a jury summons. The process is designed to be as random as possible.
What to Do After You Receive a Jury Summons
You will receive the notification of a jury summons by mail (that has not changed, even with e-mail).
When you see the envelope marked “summons,” it is bound to get a strong reaction. Nonetheless, it is a legal duty and something that must be taken seriously. Service as a juror when called is a legal obligation.
Every jury summons will come with a date. This is when you must report to the courthouse for service. It is important to be on time because it can be a long day.
It used to be that you had to call the night before jury duty to learn of the numbers that would be called. With the advent of the internet, the process has changed.
Now, you can check the official website to learn ahead of time whether you must report to the courthouse on the day of the summons.
Sometimes, the court does not need as many people as have been called because of the trial schedule for the day. Then, you get out of jury duty without even needing to show up in court.
Make sure that you have cleared your calendar at least for the day of the summons.
You should also review your coming engagements and schedule to see if jury duty would be overly burdensome for you.
If you have anything on your plate at work, you should plan ahead for how the job will get done when you are out of the office.
Explaining the Jury Selection Process
When you actually go into court, you will be interviewed first before you are seated on the jury.
In almost all states, the judge and lawyers will speak directly with potential jurors to learn more about them.
After all, these ordinary people are tasked with a decision about someone’s liberty, civil rights or right to compensation after a personal injury. It is important to know more about every possible potential juror.
The process for actually selecting a jury is called voir dire. Each side has a strategy to get jurors that would favor them the most.
In most states, attorneys will ask potential jurors questions about their beliefs. They will certainly be asked if they have any biases that could prevent from making an impartial decision.
However, a trial attorney will usually have to find more creative ways to ask these questions because very few people will outright admit to biases.
Potential jurors may be asked how they feel about police officers or other questions that could indicate their views.
Each side has a certain number of challenges that they can use to strike potential jurors from the pool.
An attorney goes by their experience and gut feelings, and they have a very limited amount of time to size up possible jurors. Mistakes can be costly.
You Can Be Excused from Jury Duty for a Valid Reason
While it is called jury duty, that duty is not absolute. In other words, service is not required no matter what.
There are times when you are excused from jury duty. However, there must be a valid reason for it.
You cannot go to the judge with the jury duty equivalent of “the dog ate my homework” excuse and expect to not have to serve.
The key is in how you present your reasoning to the court. You are not expected to serve on a jury when it will cause you undue hardship.
There Are Limited Reasons to Be Excused from Jury Service
You can ask to be excused from jury duty, but the court may not always accept your request. They must draw a line and be relatively strict when people do not want to serve as a juror.
Otherwise, they will have tremendous difficulty in finding enough people to perform this important function. However, you need to come to the judge with legitimate reasons to be excused.
The reasons for being excused from jury duty can vary considerably. It is all about your own unique situation and why you may not have the capacity to serve.
You may either have things that are preventing you from being physically present or reasons why you could not be an effective or impartial juror.
While the reasons for being excused are limited, it is certainly far from extremely rare to get out of jury
Requests to Be Excused from Jury Duty
You can file a written request to get out of jury service. You would send this request to the jury administrator.
Your letter should clearly state the reasons why you feel that you cannot serve on a jury.
If you are claiming that service will cause you extreme hardship, you should lay out all of the reasons why.
Here, it would be entirely up to the court about whether to excuse you from jury duty. Writing an excuse letter does not guarantee that you would get out of jury duty.
It just brings your matter to the court’s attention for their consideration. Each local court has their own procedures for writing this letter and the court’s consideration of your request.
In some cases, your excuse may be accepted. However, it does not automatically mean that you have escaped jury service entirely.
If your excuse was that this was not a good time based on your duties at work, the court may postpone your jury service.
Your Medical Condition Can Keep You from Serving
Jury service requires you to sit in court and pay attention for a long period of time. Jury deliberations can be exhausting, and they require your full attention.
You can present a medical excuse as a reason not to serve. This would mean that you bring a doctor’s note with you to court, detailing your condition and why you cannot serve on a jury.
In reality, your medical condition means a physical or mental impairment that could keep you from serving.
If you are not able to properly focus on the task at hand, you should not serve.
The parties to the lawsuit or the defendant is entitled to a jury that can discharge their duties.
Being Excused for Financial Hardship
There is a fine line between a civic duty and putting yourself through unusual hardship. It is expected that people will miss work to serve on a jury.
On its own, that is not enough of an excuse to be excused from serving on a jury.
However, there are some work-related reasons what could allow you to be excused. One valid excuse is a business owner who has nobody else to tend to their business if they were to miss extended time.
This is the case in small businesses, especially sole proprietorships. If the small business owner is not able to work, they will not make money at all.
Self-employment is not an automatic excuse, but judges will pay attention to your particular situation.
They do not want you to face too much of a financial burden from serving on a jury.
There are some other valid work reasons why you could be excused. You could be in the middle of a critical time at work, and you cannot afford to miss time.
While employers cannot fire you because you are serving on a jury, you are also not expected to serve no matter what.
You would need to bring an explanation from your employer why you are critically needed at work.
The judge may consider it within their discretion. Your employer themselves may write the letter to the court.
You Have Young Children
Some people just do not have the capacity to come into court every day on a regular basis.
The court does not expect you to hire a babysitter for an extended period of time if you are the primary caregiver of children.
Courts recognize that you have an important function and cannot spend extended time away from the children.
However, the situation may be different if the children are older, or if you work outside the home and already have childcare coverage during the day.
Courts need you to be present for every day of testimony given the importance of a trial. They cannot risk that you would be unable to come in because you have a childcare issue.
Other Reasons Why You May Be Able to Avoid Jury Duty
Other people who simply cannot take extended time off from what they are currently doing may be able to get out of jury duty.
One class of people who usually are excused are full time students. The court does not expect you to miss class to serve.
In addition, people on active duty are not expected to serve on a jury. It is recognized that their duties are pressing and important, and they can often get out of serving on a jury.
Others may have difficulty with the English language. It may not be their first language, and they could have trouble following the proceedings.
Another reason for being excused from jury duty is that you do not have reliable transportation that can get you to the courthouse on time every day. If you have to take public transportation, you risk being late.
What to Do When You Have Jury Duty
In all likelihood, you will need to go into court if you have received a summons. This is if your number is called.
When that happens, you should be prepared for at least one long day in court and possibly more. You will be sitting for long periods of time, and courtroom chairs and waiting area are not the most comfortable.
With that in mind, you should dress comfortably.
You may not be allowed access to your mobile device when you are in the courtroom.
This is especially true because judges do not want you to have the ability to read coverage of any case while it is ongoing.
You should be prepared to be out of pocket and cut off from the rest of the world as long as you have jury duty. Court staff may confiscate your phone if they see it out of your pocket and being used.
The Penalties for Skipping Jury Duty
Courts take it very seriously when people ignore the summons. There are criminal penalties for skipping jury duty.
If you fail to show up at the appointed time, the court could issue a warrant for your arrest.
There are a range of penalties that people will face. They depend on state law (unless you have missed federal jury duty).
Here are some possible punishments that people could face.
- Most commonly, people are fined for missing jury duty
- One may be found in contempt of court and given community service
- In some cases, courts could hand out jail time as a punishment
You may not even find out that there is a bench warrant for your arrest until later in time. Many people learn that they are in trouble for skipping jury duty when they need to have a background check.
Even if the court does not try to arrest you immediately, this warrant does not go away. You could be taken into legal custody at any time for missing jury duty.
You could end up in the justice system for a failure to participate, so it is crucial to take the summons seriously.
How Long Can You Expect to Serve on a Jury?
It completely depends on the type of case which you are assigned. You can receive civil or criminal jury duty.
Just because your assignment is civil does not mean that it will be for a shorter period of time. Jurors often serve weeks on a complex civil case when there is a high-stakes trial.
There are some jury cases that could be done in a very short period of time, even as little as a day.
The defendant may even change their plea to guilty at some point during the proceedings.
On the other hand, some criminal trials can last weeks or months.
You may even end of sequestered and away from your family, depending on whether the judge believes that you need to be cut off from the outside works in order to render an impartial verdict in a trial.
What Happens in the Jury Room?
Once all the evidence has been presented in open court at trial, and the attorneys have made their closing arguments, the jury will go into a room to talk discuss the case.
They do not begin their deliberations without guidance. It is the judge’s job to give jury instructions. These will be points of law for the jury to consider as they discuss the facts of the case.
The jury is not an expert on the law. While they are finding facts, they need to know what the elements of the case are and how to plug the facts into the law.
After discussion of the case, the jury will take a vote. There may be different rules for civil and criminal trials, depending on the state.
Every state holds that a criminal verdict must be unanimous. You cannot convict a defendant on a hung jury.
Some states will allow for jury verdicts in a trial when there is less than a unanimous vote from every juror.
Grand Jury Duty Is Different
The rules are different when you have been called to serve on a grand jury because these court proceedings are not the same as a trial. You are not deciding whether a defendant is innocent or guilty.
Instead, you are weighing whether there is probable cause to charge a suspect with a crime based on the evidence presented.
Grand jury duty can stretch for weeks. You will be told ahead of time how long you are needed. Especially in the federal court system, grand jury duty will be a long haul.
Some grand juries can even serve for over a year if they are dealing with a complicated case. The prosecutor will need to make the case in front of the grand jury why an indictment should be issued.
What Jury Service Means for a Personal Injury Case
If you have filed a personal injury lawsuit, your case may eventually go in front of a jury.
Every single aspect of the jury process, from the selection to the jury instructions, is critically important to your trial. You need a trial attorney who has special knowledge of the jury process from years of experience.
At Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, we are trial attorneys who know courtroom proceedings. We have been in many courts in our collective careers, and we can put that knowledge to work for you.
Call us today at (888) 424-5757 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation to get legal advice for your case.